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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner The Castel dell'Ovo, Naples, with Capri in the Distance 1819

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
The Castel dell’Ovo, Naples, with Capri in the Distance 1819
Turner Bequest CLXXXVII 6
Pencil and watercolour on white wove paper, 255 x 404 mm
Inscribed by John Ruskin in blue ink ‘6’ bottom right, descending right-hand edge
Stamped in black ‘CLXXXVII 6’ bottom right
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
In addition to a wealth of pencil sketches of Naples, Turner made seven watercolour studies of the city during his 1819 Italian tour. Three of these feature the Castel dell’Ovo (Castle of the Egg), an historic fortress built on the islet of Megaride, a small piece of headland which juts into the sea in front of the port of Santa Lucia. The castle was one of the most ancient buildings in Naples, and its unusual name is said to derive from the legend of a magic egg hidden within the walls by the Latin poet, Virgil. So long as it remained intact, the egg would protect the castle and the entire city. The fortress frequently appears within panoramic views of the surrounding bay (see for example D16143; Turner Bequest CLXXXVII 55), but here Turner has adopted a more unusual visual approach. The view looks south-east from the foot of the hill of Pizzafalcone, with the squarish bulk of the castle in the central foreground.1 Silhouetted in the distance are the Bay of Sorrento and the eastern tip of the Gulf of Naples and, to the right, the island of Capri. There are two related coloured views within the same sketchbook (see D16089 and D16109; Turner Bequest CLXXXVII 2 and 21), as well as a further study of the distant promontory and island without the Castel dell’Ovo in the foreground (D16108; Turner Bequest CLXXXVII 20). All of these show the same motif at different times of day, and under varying weather conditions.
The study is unfinished but has been worked up to a fairly advanced level of detail. Turner has used loose wet washes to establish the basic composition of sea, sky and land, but has employed finer brushwork to describe the architectural structures, mountainous coastline and cloud formations. The textural qualities of the foreground trees and foliaged have been achieved with a dry brush technique and removal of paint to create trunks and branches. The clear limpid colours on pure white paper are intrinsically suited to the bright sunlight and Neapolitan subject matter.
John Ruskin described this watercolour drawing as having a ‘lovely sky and some perfect trees’ adding that it was ‘of the supremest time and power; – only a sketch, mind; but worth more than pictures’.2 A copy by his protégé, William Ward (1829–1908) was shown at the Ruskin Exhibition at Manchester in 1904.3
A similar composition appears in an oil study by Carl Gustav Carus (1789–1869), Castel dell’Ovo a Napoli, ?1828 (private collection), reproduced in Anna Ottani Cavina, Un Paese Incantato: Italia Dipinta da Thomas Jones a Corot, exhibition catalogue, Galeries nationales du Grand Palais, Parigi and Palazzo Te, Mantova, Italy 2001, no.157, p.257.
Quoted in Cook and Wedderburn (eds.), vol.XIII, p.625.
Catalogue of the Ruskin Exhibition, Manchester City Art Gallery, Manchester 1904, no.176.
Technical notes:
Long detached from the Naples, Rome C. Studies sketchbook, this sheet was perhaps once folio 6 (see the concordance in the introduction).
Inscribed by unknown hands in pencil ‘15 [encircled]’ centre and ‘CLXXXVII. 6’ bottom right; stamped in black ‘CLXXXVII 6’ bottom centre.

Nicola Moorby
April 2010

How to cite

Nicola Moorby, ‘The Castel dell’Ovo, Naples, with Capri in the Distance 1819 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, April 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-the-castel-dellovo-naples-with-capri-in-the-distance-r1132352, accessed 21 June 2024.