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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner Rome (Castle of St Angelo), for Rogers's 'Italy' c.1826-7

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Rome (Castle of St Angelo), for Rogers’s ‘Italy’ circa 1826–7
Turner Bequest CCLXXX 160
Gouache, pencil and watercolour, approximately 90 x 160 mm on white wove paper, 240 x 306 mm
Stamped in black ‘CCLXXX 160’ bottom right
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
This vignette was engraved by Robert Wallis and appears as the headpiece for the thirty-second section of Rogers’s Italy, entitled ‘The Roman Pontiffs.’1 Turner here shows the Ponte Sant’Angelo, graced by Bernini’s angels; the giant Castel Sant’Angelo appears on the right and Saint Peter’s dome rises boldly in the middle distance. The role of this vignette in Italy is to complement, rather than to directly illustrate, the verses with which it is paired. As the section’s title suggests, ‘The Roman Pontiffs’ is primarily devoted to a discussion of the papacy:
Those ancient men, what were they, who achieved
A sway beyond the greatest conquerors;
Setting their feet upon the necks of kings,
And, thro’ the world, subduing, chaining down
The free, immortal spirit? Were they not
Mighty magicians? Theirs a wondrous spell,
Where true and false were the infernal art
Close-interwoven; where together met
Blessings and curses, threats and promises;
And with the terrors of Futurity
Mingled whate’er enchants and fascinates,
Music and painting, sculpture, rhetoric,
And dazzling light and darkness visible,
And architectural pomp, such as none else!
(Italy, pp.158–9)
The scene shown here would have already been familiar to many viewers, having been a popular subject for artists before Turner, including Piranesi. One account of Rome written by a British traveller in 1853 described it as: ‘the most familiar view in Rome ... The combination is so happy and picturesque that they [the buildings] appear to have arranged themselves for the especial benefit of artists, and to be good-naturedly standing, like models, to be sketched.’2 Turner himself was familiar with the vista, having already drawn it in 1818 for Hakewill’s Picturesque Tour of Italy (Private Collection, Tasmania).3 As Cecilia Powell has discussed, given the outstanding success of Hakewill’s publication throughout the 1820s, it would have been understandable if Rogers was eager to recycle some of Hakewill’s compositions in his Italy.4 Rogers also would have liked this subject for the layers of history it represented. Although Castel Sant’Angelo served as a fortress in the Middle Ages and as a castle thereafter, it was initially built in 139 AD as a mausoleum for Hadrian. The knowing viewer would have recognised and appreciated the harmonious coexistence of ancient and modern structures in this classic Roman cityscape.
Turner had recorded the view of the bridge and the Castel Sant’Angelo himself during his visit to Rome in 1819 (see Tate D16405; Turner Bequest CXC 9). Like the view that he produced for Hakewill, Turner’s sketch attends far more carefully to the actual proportions and topography of the architectural subjects in this scene. As with many of his Italy illustrations, it seems possible that Turner consulted his earlier sketches when designing his vignettes; however, he certainly did not copy directly from these sources. A comparison between Rome, Castel San Angelo and Turner’s earlier drawing of the same subject for Hakewill’s Picturesque Tour of Italy shows how dramatically he altered and exaggerated the architectural features of this vignette. In the later image, the artist distorts the view along the river by placing huge emphasis on the buildings, doubling the size of Bernini’s statues on the bridge and quadrupling the size of St Peter’s dome.5 These manipulations fill the small space of the vignette more fully and render the defining architectural landmarks of Rome’s urban landscape even more recognisable. Despite, and perhaps because of, its reuse of old themes and subjects, this vignette seems to have become one of the signature illustrations of Rogers’s Italy. When a new edition of the poem was published in Paris in 1840, a modified version of this image appeared as the frontispiece.6
Cecilia Powell has noted that the faint pencil lines drawn around this vignette were made by the engravers during the process of squaring-up the designs for reduction.7
Samuel Rogers, Italy, London 1830, p.158; W.G. Rawlinson, The Engraved Work of J.M.W. Turner, R.A., vol.II, London 1913, no.362. There is one impression in Tate’s collection (T04652).
G. S. Hillard, Six Months in Italy, vol.I, London 1853, p.324. Quoted in Cecilia Powell, ‘Turner’s vignettes and the making of Rogers’s “Italy” ’, Turner Studies, vol.3, no.1, Summer 1983, p.6.
Wilton 1979, no.703. For more on the Hakewill project, see Cecilia Powell, ‘Topography, imagination and travel: Turner’s relationship with James Hakewill’, Art History vol.5, no.4, December 1982, pp.409–425.
Powell 1983, p.6.
Ibid., p.8.
Ibid., p.13 note 96.
Ibid., p.10.
Inscribed by unknown hands in pencil ‘17’ and ‘11 | a’ centre and ‘CCLXXX.160’ bottom centre and ‘D.27677’ bottom left
Stamped in black ‘CCLXX 160’ centre left

Meredith Gamer
August 2006

How to cite

Meredith Gamer, ‘Rome (Castle of St Angelo), 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-rome-castle-of-st-angelo-for-rogerss-italy-r1133317, accessed 19 June 2021.