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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner Notes on St Peter's, Rome 1819

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Folio 2 Verso:
Notes on St Peter’s, Rome 1819
Turner Bequest CLXXX 2 a
Pencil on white wove paper, 161 x 101 mm
Inscribed by the artist in black ink (see main catalogue entry) and in pencil ‘Perseus’ within sketch top right, parallel with right-hand edge
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner has used this page to make extensive handwritten notes in black ink about the architectural design of St Peter’s, the great basilica church of Rome and Vatican City. The inscription was first fully transcribed by Cecilia Powell and is repeated here with only minor variations from her text:
Saint Peter’s the part by Bernini good | in the arrangement of the colomns but being | very large they carry the idea of greatness | away from the facade of the building | which being but one Order . tho the attic | has in the facia of the pannel a | capital, to carry an entablature | without supports, and the Dome collosal | has it certainly is by measure appears | to rest upon the upper cornice and | is the most favourable V and the | columns are cut by it or the cupula has no base. | so that the Dome in approaching | the steps becomes secondary the | sculpture parts for the parts once | [?open] are immense pieces ... and but a | trifling pediment marks the front. | and the openings increase between the | pilasters so that two of the windows are | [sketch of a window]
Turner’s criticisms of St Peter’s were not unusual. Many visitors to Rome found the façade disappointing.1 Detailed drawings of the exterior of St Peter’s appear in the Rome C. Studies sketchbook (Tate D16332, D16333, D16347; Turner Bequest CLXXXIX 6, 7 and 21), whilst sketches of the interior can be found within the St Peter’s sketchbook (Tate D16189, D16279, D16309, D16311–15; Turner Bequest CLXXXVIII 17a, 67a, 83, 84–6).
Also on this page underneath the writing is a pencil drawing executed in the top right-hand corner, parallel with the gutter of the sketchbook. This is part of a study of the Palazzo Farnese which has spilled over from the opposite sheet of the double-page spread, see folio 3 (D15109). The detail, annotated ‘Perseus’, appears to represent the fresco of Perseus and Phineas by Annibale Carracci and Domenichino from the northern end wall of the Farnese Gallery. Turner has briefly indicated the shape of the doors underneath the painting.

Nicola Moorby
December 2009

Powell 1984, p.225.

How to cite

Nicola Moorby, ‘Notes on St Peter’s, Rome 1819 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, December 2009, 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-notes-on-st-peters-rome-r1139519, accessed 22 May 2024.