Joseph Mallord William Turner

The Zen Chapel in the Basilica of San Marco (St Mark’s), Venice


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Gouache, ink wash and watercolour on paper
Support: 314 × 243 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCCXVIII 8

Catalogue entry

The Turner scholar C.F. Bell annotated Finberg’s 1909 Inventory entry (‘Interior of church. (?St. Mark’s.)’): ‘Rather fantastic. Mass being said at one of the side altars in the transept. But the Zen tomb appears in the middle!’.1 While the actions of the loosely indicated figures are open to less specific interpretations, Bell’s identification of the tomb seems correct, and has been accepted by Ian Warrell, noting the setting as ‘the funerary chapel dedicated to Cardinal Giambattista Zen [died 1501], nephew of Pope Paul II’.2
The view is southwards into the small but richly decorated chapel, at the south-west corner of the basilica of San Marco. There is a sense of the baldacchino or ciborium canopy with a pediment projecting over the altar on the far wall, with vague indications of its reredos comprising the seated bronze Madonna della Scarpa flanked by Saints Peter and John the Baptist, below a large arched window without tracery. The effigy of the cardinal (like the Madonna, by Antonio Lombardo, c.1458–1516)3 lies feet first towards the altar, wearing a mitre and with his head supported by pillows at the near end. There are three bronze caryatid figures down each long side, which seem to catch the light.
Although no pencil study is known, these details appear relatively accurate and more closely recalled than the features in Turner’s contemporary colour study of the imposing spaces of the nave and transept (Tate D32226; Turner Bequest CCCXVIII 7); in relation to both, Lindsay Stainton has called it ‘characteristic’ of Turner ‘to ignore ... the architectural detail and to concentrate on the shafts of light penetrating the mysterious darkness of the church’.4 See also Tate D32241 and D32252 (Turner Bequest CCCXVIII 22, CCCXIX 4).
Undated MS note by Bell (died 1966) in copy of Finberg 1909, Prints and Drawings Room, Tate Britain, II, p.1027.
Warrell 1993, p.306; Warrell 1994, p.212.
See Warrell 2003, p.125.
Stainton 1985, p.46.
Technical notes:
This is one of numerous 1840 Venice works Ian Warrell has noted as being on ‘Red-brown paper made at Cartieri Pietro Milani Mill, Fabriano, with a watermark showing the letter “M” accompanied by laurel leaves:1 Tate D32224, D32227, D32230, D32238–D32241, D32245–D32246, D32248, D32251, D32254 (Turner Bequest CCCXVIII 5, 8, 11, 19–22, 26, 27, 29, CCCXIX 3, 6). As Warrell has observed; the support ‘seems to be quite absorbent, so that the colours penetrate through to the back of the sheet’.2
‘Appendix: The papers used for Turner’s Venetian Watercolours’ (1840, section 9) in Warrell 2003, p.259; see also see also Peter Bower, Turner’s Later Papers: A Study of the Manufacture, Selection and Use of his Drawing Papers 1820–1851, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1999, p.111 under no.64; and Warrell 2003, p.259, sections 10 and 11, for other likely Italian (possibly Fabriano) brown papers.
Ibid., section 9.

Matthew Imms
September 2018

Read full Catalogue entry


You might like

In the shop