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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner View of St Peter's Square, Rome, from the Loggia of the Vatican; Study for 'Rome from the Vatican' 1819

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
View of St Peter’s Square, Rome, from the Loggia of the Vatican; Study for ‘Rome from the Vatican’ 1819
Turner Bequest CLXXXIX 41
Gouache, pen, pencil and watercolour on white wove paper, 232 x 370 mm
Inscribed by the artist in black pen-and-ink ‘PAVLVS III. PONT M’ centre right-hand edge
Stamped in black ‘CLXXXIX 41’ bottom right
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
The subject of this complex drawing is the view from the second floor loggia in the Vatican, looking east across St Peter’s Square towards the city beyond. The panorama incorporates the vista from the Prati di Castello and the Pincian Hill on the left, past the Castel Sant’Angelo and the sweeping bend of the River Tiber in the centre, to Trastevere and the Janiculum Hill on the far right. Visible landmarks across the line of the horizon include, from left to right: the Villa Medici and the trees of the Borghese Gardens; Trinità dei Monti; the Castel Sant’Angelo; the Quirinal Palace and the two domes and bell-tower of Santa Maria Maggiore; the Torre dei Milize; the Basilica of San Giovanno in Laterano; the Capitoline Hill with the tower of the Senatorial Palace; and the domes of San Giovanni dei Fiorentini and San Carlo ai Catinari. In addition to the topographical accuracy of the wider prospect, the foreground of the study incorporates the roofscape across Bernini’s colonnades in St Peter’s Square and part of the Papal Palace, as well as part of the interior of the famous Raphael Loggia.
There are three levels of loggie in the Vatican, covered galleries with open arcades bordering the Cortile di San Damaso, in the eastern wing of the Papal Palace (Palazzo Apostolico). First commissioned from Bramante (1444–1514) by Pope Julius II, the responsibility for the work passed to the official architect of Pope Leo X, the Renaissance master, Raphael (1483–1520), and it was the second floor loggia, on the same level as the Apartments of Julius II and Leo X, which was the first to be completed. Comprising a gallery of thirteen arches and sixty-five metres long, the loggia was decorated in 1517–19 by Raphael and his assistants, with grotesque patterns modelled on those in Nero’s Domus Aurea [Golden House], as well as fifty-two ceiling frescoes of scenes from the Old and New Testaments, popularly known as the ‘Bible of Raphael’. Turner visited the loggia as part of his extensive exploration of Rome in 1819 and made a number of detailed sketches of the interior, see the Tivoli and Rome sketchbook (see Tate D14955–D14965 and D14969; Turner Bequest CLXXIX 13a-21 and 24). This drawing incorporates the southern end of the loggia with the decorative panels on the end wall, above an inscription dedicated to Pope Paul III. Beneath the inscription is a marble bust of Raphael by Alessando d’Este (1787–1826), which had recently been given to the Vatican by Antonio Canova and placed on a plinth in its current location (for a detailed discussion see Tate D14969; Turner Bequest CLXXIX 24).1 Slouched against the pillar is the figure of a man with folded arms and crossed legs, dressed in the distinctive striped uniform of the Pontifical Swiss Guard.
Cecilia Powell has identified the artist’s precise viewpoint for the drawing as leaning on the window sill of the final bay of the loggia (i.e. that nearest to St Peter’s square) with a small sliver of the exterior of the Vatican visible to the right.2 From this location, the alignment of the Piazza San Pietro obelisk and Bernini’s colonnade appear as depicted within the sketch, although Turner has employed a certain amount of artistic licence by pulling in closer the distant domes and bell-towers of the Trastevere district beyond.3 As Maurice Davis has discussed, Turner has also manipulated the perspective of the foreground by twisting the position of the loggia almost ninety degrees so that it does not reflect its true position in parallel with the opposite wing of the Pontifical Palace (the Palace of Sixtus V, on the left, across the Cortile di San Damaso), but instead more effectively opens up the panoramic vista in front.4 This has a consequence for the line of the balustrade which ought to be a straight line, but instead bends in order to meet the pillar of the loggia, and not the figure of the Swiss Guard.
The study forms the main compositional basis for Turner’s large finished oil painting, Rome, from the Vatican. Raffaelle, accompanied by La Fornarina, preparing his Pictures for the Decoration of the Loggia exhibited 1820 (Tate, N00503).5 Within the final painting, Turner placed the viewer at a greater distance from the window and introduces a greater portion of the interior of the loggia itself, despite recreating the same topographical view seen within the sketch.6 He also moved the position of the obelisk further across to the right so that the figure of Raphael could take centre stage within the foreground,7 and obscured the roofscape of the Vatican present immediately beneath the window ledge.8 Other differences include the absence of the figure of the Swiss Guard and the inclusion instead of the figures of Raphael and his mistress, La Fornarina, surrounded by paintings, sculptures and drawings. The pedestal at the end of the loggia is present but stands empty of its portrait bust. Further studies related to the evolution of the painting can be found in the Tivoli and Rome sketchbook (see Tate D14966 and D14970–D14972; Turner Bequest CLXXIX 21a and 25–26).
Like many drawings within the Rome C. Studies sketchbook, the composition has been executed in pencil over a washed grey background, although in this instance Turner has also reinforced the lines with extensive black pen-and-ink. As Robert McVaugh has discussed, this approach was an unusual departure for Turner and one which is not seen elsewhere within sketches related to the 1819 tour of Italy, but may be explained by the preparatory nature of the image.9 The large numbers of sketches pertaining to the loggia, as well as other Roman sites connected with Raphael indicate that Turner thoughts were very much preoccupied with the Renaissance artist during his sojourn in the city. Rome, from the Vatican was the first Italian oil completed by the artist following his return from Italy in January 1820, and the painting was speedily executed so that it could be exhibited at the Royal Academy in May. It seems extremely likely, therefore, that Turner had already formed the intention of making a finished picture on the subject of Raphael and the Vatican whilst still in Rome, and therefore set about assembling all the visual information he would require to complete the work in the studio. The accuracy of the architectural complexities within this drawing, as well as the inclusion of the Swiss Guard, suggests that the pencil on the spot at least must have been completed on the spot. It is possible, however, that the inked lines and the carefully placed white gouache highlights may have been added at a later stage, at which point Turner also added the brushes and palettes resting on the rail in the central foreground, a conceptual link with the final theme and appearance of Rome, from the Vatican. A similar collection of artistic accoutrements appears on the table to the left of the finished painting.
Unfortunately, in common with many of the sketches and watercolours chosen for display during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the sheet has suffered from overexposure to light and the paper has become irreversibly faded and discoloured. Peter Bower has suggested that this is probably down to the high content of indigo in the grey watercolour wash, rather than properties within the paper.10
Powell 1987, pp.61–2 and McVaugh 1987, p.372.
Powell 1984, p.117 and Powell 1987, p.113.
Davis 1992, pp.87–8.
Butlin and Joll 1984, no.228.
Powell 1987, p.113.
Powell 1984, p.118
McVaugh 1987, p.374
Ibid., p.373.
Peter Bower, Turner’s Papers: A Study of the Manufacture, Selection and Use of his Drawing Papers 1787–1820, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1990, p.120.
Blank; inscribed by an unknown hand in pencil ‘13’ centre right, parallel with right-hand edge and ‘¼ 8’ centre left, parallel with left-hand edge.

Nicola Moorby
October 2009

How to cite

Nicola Moorby, ‘View of St Peter’s Square, Rome, from the Loggia of the Vatican; Study for ‘Rome from the Vatican’ 1819 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, October 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-view-of-st-peters-square-rome-from-the-loggia-of-the-vatican-r1132486, accessed 27 November 2020.