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 21
Pencil and watercolour on white wove paper, 253 x 403 mm
Inscribed by John Ruskin in blue ink ‘21’ bottom right, descending right-hand edge
Stamped in black ‘CLXXXVII 21’ bottom right
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
This is one of seven coloured studies of Naples dating from Turner’s 1819 tour of Italy. Three of these watercolours 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 appears to look south-east from the foot of the hill of Pizzafalcone, so that the squarish bulk of the castle stands in dramatic isolation within an empty foreground. Silhouetted in distance are the Sorrentine peninsula and, to the right, the island of Capri.1
Despite being unfinished, the study contains a more advanced level of detail than a near-identical early morning view within the same sketchbook (D16089; Turner Bequest CLXXXVII 2). Turner has used loose wet washes to create the basic tonal properties of the composition but has worked to a higher level of finish to describe the architecture of the castle and the cloud formations within the sky. There is also a similar but closer study of the fortress (D16093; Turner Bequest CLXXXVII 6), and a further watercolour of the distant promontory and island without the fortress in the foreground (D16108; Turner Bequest CLXXXVII 20). All of these views depict the motif of the Castel dell’Ovo at different times of day, under varying weather conditions.
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.
Technical notes:
Long detached from the Naples, Rome C. Studies sketchbook, this sheet was perhaps once folio 21 (see the concordance in the introduction).

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-r1132368, accessed 24 May 2024.