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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner Marengo, for Rogers's 'Italy' c.1826-7

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Marengo, for Rogers’s ‘Italy’ circa 1826–7
Turner Bequest CCLXXX 146
Gouache, pencil and watercolour, approximately 123 x 202 mm on white wove paper, 214 x 298 mm
Inscribed by the artist in black watercolour ‘Battle | [?of] | Marengo | 18’ and ‘Lodi’ in foreground of vignette
Stamped in black ‘CCLXXX 146’ bottom right
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
This vignette appears as the head-piece to the fifth section in Rogers’s Italy, entitled ‘The Descent.’1 It was engraved by Edward Goodall, who was one of the most prolific and skilled interpreters of Turner’s designs. This scene is based upon a story told by Rogers’s mountain guide, who reported having seen Napoleon and his army crossing the Great St Bernard Pass in 1800:
    Then my Guide,
Lowering his voice, addressed me: “Thro’ this Gap
On and say nothing – lest a word, a breath
Bring down a winter’s snow – enough to whelm
The armed files that, night and day, were seen
Winding from cliff to cliff in loose array
To conquer at Marengo. Tho’ long since,
Well I remember how I met them here,
As the sun set far down, purpling the west;
And how Napoleon, he himself no less,
Wrapt in his cloak – I could not be deceived –
Reined in his horse, and asked me, as I passed,
How far ‘twas to St. Remi. Where the rock
Juts forward, and the road, crumbling away,
Narrows almost to nothing at its base,
Twas there; and down along the brink he led
To Victory!
(Italy, p.18)
Napoleon made this famous three-day crossing accompanied by some 40,000 troops.2 Within a month they had scored a crucial victory against the Austrians at Marengo (hence the vignette’s title) and won full control of Italy.3 In the foreground of this vignette, Turner has included a stone inscribed with the words ‘Battle of Marengo’ and ‘Lodi.’ This second name refers to the site of an earlier battle that Napoleon fought in Lombardy in 1796 and which, like Marengo, became central to Napoleonic myth. In the published engraving of this design, mention of this second engagement was removed.
Turner’s representation of Napoleon borrows directly from Jacques-Louis David’s famous equestrian portrait Napoleon crossing the Alps at the Great St Bernard Pass, circa 1800 (Chateau de Malmaison, Rueil Malamison, France). Turner would have seen the painting when he visited David’s Paris studio in 1802 and he may have seen it again when it was exhibited in London in 1815.4 Here, Turner has reproduced not only Napoleon’s rearing horse and dramatic gesture, but also the idea of inscribing the landscape with significant names. In David’s painting, rocks in the foreground bear the names of Napoleon and the Carthaginian leader, Hannibal, a figure who also makes an appearance in Rogers’s Italy (see Tate D27666; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 149). For the most part, a strict separation between figure scenes and landscape subjects was respected throughout Rogers’s Italy, with Thomas Stothard invariably producing the former and Turner the latter. Marengo marks a rare exception to this rule and Adele Holcomb has suggested that Rogers may have encouraged Turner to borrow from David’s picture in order to avoid ‘embarrassment.’5 However, it seems more likely that Turner’s quotation of this well-known visual source was primarily intended to ensure that the vignette’s subject would be immediately recognised by its audience.
In Modern Painters, John Ruskin praises Marengo for its fine representation of the Alpine landscape, which he said conveyed ‘the instant conviction that Turner is as much of a geologist as he is of a painter.’6 Ruskin’s comment may seem surprising given the sketchy quality of the mountain range in this watercolour drawing. However, it is more easily justified when linked to the engraved version, which is in fact what Ruskin was referring to when he penned these words.7 Although, it was common for Turner to provide only the vaguest indication of sky and background scenery in his watercolour drawings for Italy, his many annotations on his engravers’ trial proofs indicate that he nonetheless dictated the appearance of these details in the published versions of the vignettes.8
Contrary to the impression given by the verses quoted above, Rogers did not actually cross into Italy via the Great St Bernard Pass. He instead used the considerably less arduous Simplon Pass, which was conceived and commissioned by Napoleon in the early nineteenth century. There were two clear advantages to a narrative that described a journey across the Great St Bernard Pass. Firstly (and perhaps most importantly given Rogers’s fondness for historical musings), it allowed him to reflect upon the famous crossings of two great conquerors, Napoleon and Hannibal. Secondly, since Rogers first published Italy anonymously, it allowed him to ‘cover his tracks’, thereby throwing off readers who might have otherwise recognised him as the author.9
Samuel Rogers, Italy, London 1830, p.17; W.G. Rawlinson, The Engraved Work of J.M.W. Turner, R.A. vol.II, London 1913, no.353. There is one impression in Tate’s collection (T04639).
Powell 1998, p.69.
Piggott 1993, p.38.
John Gage, Colour in Turner: Poetry and Truth, London 1969, pp.100, 245 note 114.
Adele Holcomb, ‘A Neglected Classical Phase in Turner’s Art: his vignettes to Rogers’s Italy’, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, vol. 32, 1969, p.407.
Cook and Wedderburn (eds.) 1903, vol.III, p.429.
Ibid., p.364 note 5. See also Luke Herrmann, Turner Prints: The Engraved Work of J.M.W. Turner, Oxford 1990, pp.187–8.
Powell 1983, p.13 note 86. For more information about Turner’s involvement in the engraving process and examples of his annotated proofs, see Eric M. Lee, Translations: Turner and Printmaking, exhibition catalogue, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven 1993.
J.R. Hale (ed.), The Italian Journal of Samuel Rogers, London 1956, p.109.
Inscribed by unknown hands in pencil ‘2 b’ and ‘[?6]’ upper centre and ‘CCLXXX.146’ bottom centre
Stamped ‘CCLXXX 146’ lower centre

Meredith Gamer
August 2006

How to cite

Meredith Gamer, ‘Marengo, for Rogers’s ‘Italy’ c.1826–7 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, August 2006, 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-marengo-for-rogerss-italy-r1133297, accessed 30 May 2024.