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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

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

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Venice, for Rogers’s ‘Italy’ circa 1826–7
Turner Bequest CCLXXX 193
Watercolour and pencil, approximately 125 x 184 mm on white wove paper, 237 x 302 mm
Stamped in black ‘CCLXXX 193’ bottom right
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
This vignette appears as the head-piece for the thirteenth section of Rogers’s Italy, also entitled ‘Venice’.1 It was engraved by Edward Goodall, who was one of the most prolific and skilled interpreters of Turner’s designs.2 Venice offers a conventional view of the Molo, which was and remains the city’s most popular promenade, lined by the Sansovino Library, the Doge’s Palace, and the city prison. In the right foreground, amidst the boat-filled Grand Canal, the Ducal barge, Il Bucintoro, can be seen setting out from the palace. The inclusion of the Doge’s barge dates the scene to before the French invasion of 1797 when Venice was still a proud and thriving republic.
The brilliant colouring and detailed execution of the architectural subjects within the vignette provide an especially evocative complement to the opening verses of ‘Venice’:
There is a glorious City in the Sea.
The Sea is in the broad, the narrow streets,
Ebbing and flowing; and the salt sea-weed
Clings to the marble of her palaces.
No track of men, no footsteps to and fro,
Lead to her gates. The path lies o’er the Sea,
Invisible; and from the land we went,
As to a floating City – steering in,
And gliding up her streets as in a dream,
So smoothly, silently – by many a dome
Mosque-like, and many a stately portico,
The statues ranged along an azure sky;
By many a pile in more than Eastern pride,
Of old the residence of merchant-kings;
The fronts of some, tho’ Time had shattered them,
Still glowing with the richest hues of art,
As tho’ the wealth within them had run o’er.
(Italy, pp.47–8)
In Rogers’s day, his invocation of Venice as the ‘glorious City in the Sea’ was as famous as Byron’s opening lines to Canto IV of Childe Harold (‘I stood in Venice, on the Bridge of Sighs | A palace and a prison on each hand’), and it seems safe to assume that Venice was among the best known of Turner’s Italy designs.3
Like Marengo (see Tate D27663; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 146) and Galileo’s Villa (see Tate D27680; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 163), this vignette makes reference to the historical figures and events that Rogers associated with the places he visited. The fact that the Bucentaur is shown performing the symbolic ‘Marriage of the Sea’ ceremony, which had fallen out of use by the early nineteenth century, reinforces the sense that we are seeing Venice at the height of its former glory.4 Turner’s seamless movement between representations of historical and contemporary Italy complements Rogers’s own verses, in which the poet ‘talks of the past as vividly as of the present.’5
When Turner visited Venice in 1819, he produced many drawings of the city, including views of the Grand Canal, the Campanile and the Doge’s Palace. It seems unlikely that he closely referred to his Italian sketchbooks when painting the Venice vignette. The loggia facing the waterfront, for example, is not accurately represented, even though Turner correctly observed this detail in an earlier sketch (see Milan to Venice sketchbook, Tate D14380; Turner Bequest CLXXV 35 verso).6 However, it is worth noting one on-site study that bears a clear resemblance to the composition (see Tate D15258; Turner Bequest CLXXXI 7). Both works borrow from Antonio Visentini’s engraving after Canaletto, The Bucintoro returning to the Molo on Ascension Day, which was published in the collection Prospectus Magni Canalis Venetiarum in 1742.7 Turner also produced a preliminary study for Venice which shows an informal scene in the Piazza di San Marco (see Tate D27519; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 2). However, perhaps, owing to Rogers’s preference for more conventional subject matter, this experimental composition was rejected in favour of the more traditional view seen here. Although Turner clearly borrowed from Canaletto’s composition, he took a considerable degree of artistic licence in Venice, particularly in his depiction of the Basilica San Marco and the Sansovino Library.8 Turner’s tendency to distort minor architectural and topographical details in order to capture the general spirit of his subject is evident within a number of Italy vignettes. For other examples, see Aosta (Tate D27662; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 145), The Forum (Tate D27675; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 158), Rome, Castel San Angelo (Tate D27677; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 160), and Paestum (Tate D27665; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 148).
Whilst he may have been inaccurate in his treatment of certain architectural details, Turner was nonetheless remarkably attentive to the effects of light and shadow, as can be seen in the slanting shadow that graces the campanile and the higher lighting of the distant Torre dell’Orologio.9 He made pencil sketches of the campanile and the loggia of the Libreria Marciana on the left-hand side of the vignette, probably to clarify the architectural detail for the engraver, Edward Goodall.10 The brilliant palette of this and other Italy vignettes was considered overly extravagant by many of Turner’s contemporaries and it has been suggested that he used such colours to ease the task of his engravers.11 While this may have been true, Adele Holcomb has noted that Goodall’s method for translating colour in Venice does not follow the instructions that Turner reportedly gave to him.12 According to Goodall’s son, Frederick, his father was told by Turner to translate the colour red as either black or white, depending on which colour gave greater emphasis to the subject.13 However, the finished print reveals that Goodall in fact represented the most brilliant colours in Turner’s palette as a wide range of delicate greys. Nonetheless, the engraved version of Venice is considered to be one of the most superb in the Italy series.14 Robert Wallace has suggested that the jewel-like delicacy of the design was a source of inspiration for Herman Melville’s poem ‘Venice’, published in 1891.15 It may also have been this vignette that led Sir Walter Scott to praise Turner’s Italy illustrations as ‘such beautiful specimens of architecture as form a rare specimen of the manner in which the art of poetry can awaken the muse of painting.’16
Samuel Rogers, Italy, London 1830, p.47.
W.G. Rawlinson, The Engraved Work of J.M.W. Turner, R.A., vol.II, London 1913, no.358. There is one impression in Tate’s collection (T04646).
Warrell 2003, p.75.
Warrell 1991, p.54.
Powell 1983, p.5.
Warrell 1991, p.54.
Warrell 2003, p.75.
Farrington and Liversidge (eds.) 1993, p.177.
Warrell 1991, p.54.
Adele Holcomb, ‘J.M.W. Turner’s Illustrations to the Poets’, unpublished Ph.D thesis, University of California, Los Angeles 1966, p.39.
Frederick Goodall, The Reminiscences of Frederick Goodall, R.A., London 1902, p.57.
Luke Herrmann, Turner Prints: The Engraved Work of J.M.W. Turner, Oxford 1990, p.184. Herrmann also points to another Italy vignette, Florence (Tate D27673; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 156).
Wallace 1997 in Caraway (ed.), p.25.
Ibid. p.54. Scott is quoted in Gerald Finley, Landscapes of Memory: Turner as Illustrator to Scott, London 1980, p.72.
Inscribed by unknown hands in pencil ‘27 b’ centre and ‘CCLXXX.193’ bottom centre
Stamped in black ‘CCLXXX 193’ lower centre

Meredith Gamer
August 2006

How to cite

Meredith Gamer, ‘Venice, 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-venice-for-rogerss-italy-r1133305, accessed 05 June 2020.