Joseph Mallord William Turner

Venice, for Rogers’s ‘Italy’


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Watercolour on paper
Support: 240 × 306 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCLXXX 193

Catalogue entry

This vignette appears as the head-piece for the thirteenth section of Rogers’s Italy, also entitled ‘Venice’.1 It was engraved by Edward Goodall, who was one of the most prolific and skilled interpreters of Turner’s designs.2 Venice offers a conventional view of the Molo, which was and remains the city’s most popular promenade, lined by the Sansovino Library, the Doge’s Palace, and the city prison. In the right foreground, amidst the boat-filled Grand Canal, the Ducal barge, Il Bucintoro, can be seen setting out from the palace. The inclusion of the Doge’s barge dates the scene to before the French invasion of 1797 when Venice was still a proud and thriving republic.
The brilliant colouring and detailed execution of the architectural subjects within the vignette provide an especially evocative complement to the opening verses of ‘Venice’:
There is a glorious City in the Sea.
The Sea is in the broad, the narrow streets,
Ebbing and flowing; and the salt sea-weed
Clings to the marble of her palaces.
No track of men, no footsteps to and fro,
Lead to her gates. The path lies o’er the Sea,
Invisible; and from the land we went,
As to a floating City – steering in,
And gliding up her streets as in a dream,
So smoothly, silently – by many a dome
Mosque-like, and many a stately portico,
The statues ranged along an azure sky;
By many a pile in more than Eastern pride,
Of old the residence of merchant-kings;
The fronts of some, tho’ Time had shattered them,
Still glowing with the richest hues of art,
As tho’ the wealth within them had run o’er.
(Italy, pp.47–8)
In Rogers’s day, his invocation of Venice as the ‘glorious City in the Sea’ was as famous as Byron’s opening lines to Canto IV of Childe Harold (‘I stood in Venice, on the Bridge of Sighs | A palace and a prison on each hand’), and it seems safe to assume that Venice was among the best known of Turner’s Italy designs.3
Like Marengo (see Tate D27663; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 146) and Galileo’s Villa (see Tate D27680; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 163), this vignette makes reference to the historical figures and events that Rogers associated with the places he visited. The fact that the Bucentaur is shown performing the symbolic ‘Marriage of the Sea’ ceremony, which had fallen out of use by the early nineteenth century, reinforces the sense that we are seeing Venice at the height of its former glory.4 Turner’s seamless movement between representations of historical and contemporary Italy complements Rogers’s own verses, in which the poet ‘talks of the past as vividly as of the present.’5
Samuel Rogers, Italy, London 1830, p.47.
W.G. Rawlinson, The Engraved Work of J.M.W. Turner, R.A., vol.II, London 1913, no.358. There is one impression in Tate’s collection (T04646).
Warrell 2003, p.75.
Warrell 1991, p.54.
Powell 1983, p.5.
Warrell 1991, p.54.
Warrell 2003, p.75.
Farrington and Liversidge (eds.) 1993, p.177.
Warrell 1991, p.54.
Adele Holcomb, ‘J.M.W. Turner’s Illustrations to the Poets’, unpublished Ph.D thesis, University of California, Los Angeles 1966, p.39.
Frederick Goodall, The Reminiscences of Frederick Goodall, R.A., London 1902, p.57.
Luke Herrmann, Turner Prints: The Engraved Work of J.M.W. Turner, Oxford 1990, p.184. Herrmann also points to another Italy vignette, Florence (Tate D27673; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 156).
Wallace 1997 in Caraway (ed.), p.25.
Ibid. p.54. Scott is quoted in Gerald Finley, Landscapes of Memory: Turner as Illustrator to Scott, London 1980, p.72.

Meredith Gamer
August 2006

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