Joseph Mallord William Turner

The Torri Garisenda and Asinelli, Bologna, from the Mercato di Mezzo


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 184 × 111 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CLXXVI 79

Catalogue entry

Drawn with the page turned vertically, the view is east along Bologna’s Via Rizzoli (then the Mercato di Mezzo)1 to the Piazza di Porta Ravegnana, with the Torre Asinelli in the middle and the truncated Torre Garisenda leaning in on the left above the dome of the church of Santi Bartolomeo e Gaetano. While the relative lateral juxtapositions of the buildings and the extent to which the Torri Garisenda projects above the buildings on the left suggest a viewpoint back towards the corner of the Via Calzolerie, Turner seems to have struggled with the immense height of the central tower and the relative proportions of the towers and dome, perhaps indicating that he moved at least once in the course of making the drawing.
The dome and cupola appear much too tall in relation to the Torre Garisenda, while the crenellated course about half way up the Torre Asinelli should appear about level with the top of the cupola and the whole tower should be correspondingly wider and taller. Meanwhile the battlemented base appears far too narrow, and the statue seems to have migrated into the foreground from its actual position closer to the base; from a distance its headgear appears level with the battlements. See also the unresolved (and probably unresolvable) drawing made very close to the towers on folio 32 recto (D14544; Turner Bequest CLXXVI 28). For general remarks on Bologna and Turner’s numerous views on adjacent pages (some including the towers in the distance), see under folio 24 recto (D14532).
As Cecilia Powell has noted, Bologna: The Leaning Towers, a watercolour of about 1826 by Richard Parkes Bonington (Wallace Collection, London), shows a similar prospect but from rather further away, leaving the proportions and perspective less problematic.2 Turner appears to have considered a composition of the towers among his watercolour vignettes to illustrate the 1830 edition of Samuel Rogers’s Italy, although Meredith Gamer has suggested that he worked on two unfinished versions from memory (Tate D27531, D27619; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 14, 102) as they do not closely resemble any of the 1819 views.

Matthew Imms
March 2017

See Powell 1984, p.87.
See ibid., pp.464–5 note 93.

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