J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner Interior of an Italian Church 1819

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Folio 52 Recto:
Interior of an Italian Church 1819
Turner Bequest CLXXXVII 52
Pencil and watercolour on white wove paper, 403 x 255 mm
Inscribed by John Ruskin in blue ink ‘52’ bottom left, inverted
Stamped in black ‘CLXXXVII 52’ bottom left, descending left-hand edge
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
The pair of coloured studies on this page and folio 53 (D16141) are unfinished views depicting the interior of an Italian church or cathedral. The details are too rough for the location to be conclusively identified. Finberg suggested that they were views of St Peter’s in Rome.1 However, the forms seem suggestive of austere, narrow and pointed Gothic arches, rather than the ornate vast spaces and round arches evident in Turner’s on-the-spot studies of the basilica in the St Peter’s sketchbook (see Tate D16309–D16315; Turner Bequest CLXXXVIII 83–86) and a later watercolour, Interior of St Peter’s 1821 (The Morgan Library & Museum, New York).2 An alternative suggestion was provided by the unknown person who tentatively inscribed the back of the study ‘?Milan Cath[edral]’. The artist also made sketches of the interior of the Duomo in Milan, see the Milan to Venice sketchbook (Tate D14344–D14345, D14488; Turner Bequest CLXXV 12a–13, 90a).
Despite their unfinished nature, the studies reflect Turner’s interest in complex perspective and the experience of looking through interlocking spaces of light and dark. The artist later made similar studies in the Eu and Treport sketchbook, 1845 (see Tate D35442 and D35445; Turner Bequest CCCLIX 7 and 10).3
Finberg 1909, p.556.
Andrew Wilton, The Life and Work of J.M.W. Turner, Fribourg 1979, no.724. Reproduced in Powell 1987, pl.120, p.109.
Martin Butlin, Andrew Wilton and John Gage, Turner 1775–1851, exhibition catalogue, Royal Academy, London 1974, p.88 under no.218. See also Wilton 1975, pp.160–1.
Blank, with traces of watercolour. Inscribed by unknown hands in pencil ‘?Milan Cath.’ bottom right, descending right-hand edge and ‘clxxxvii – p.52’ bottom, left of centre, and stamped in black ‘CLXXXVII 52’ and Turner Bequest monogram bottom right, ascending right-hand edge.

Nicola Moorby
November 2010

How to cite

Nicola Moorby, ‘Interior of an Italian Church 1819 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, November 2010, in David Blayney Brown (ed.), J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours, Tate Research Publication, December 2012, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/jmw-turner/joseph-mallord-william-turner-interior-of-an-italian-church-r1132402, accessed 19 January 2022.