Travelling in Italy during Turner’s Lifetime
Ross Balzaretti, Pietro Piana and Charles Watkins
The tension between individual and group experience is evident in the published and unpublished archival material. People who went to Italy in search of themselves did so in such numbers that they could not escape other travellers. The ‘first view of the Mediterranean Genoese’ as reported by both Harriet Parry and Catherine Maria Fanshawe is typical. They presented their experiences as unique, whereas by 1820 the view had already become a classic, even hackneyed scene for professional artists. This exact view had been sketched by John Robert Cozens in 1776. It was sketched again in 1816 by James Hakewill, and reproduced as an engraving in his Picturesque Tour published in 1820 by John Murray, a publication that incorporated some of Turner’s images too (fig.2).44 The book sold well as it capitalised on the renewed desire for continental travelling in those immediately post-Napoleonic years.45 Elizabeth Christiana Fanshawe produced a further version of this view on her travels in the region in 1829–30 (fig.3).
As has been demonstrated, Turner was among hundreds of people who travelled to Italy after wartime restrictions had been lifted in 1815.48 Like all travellers at this time he was concerned with the practical aspects of getting around.49 His sketchbooks contain advice from James Hakewill on where to go and where to stay, and he made notes himself about possible routes (figs.4–5).
Hazards of Travel
Another life-threatening problem often encountered by travellers in most parts of Italy was flooding, which then as now could be severe. As has already been noted, Harriet Parry noticed that the riverbeds her carriage passed through were dry in July 1819. However, summers were not always so safe, as Mary and Agnes Berry – the famous bluestocking friends of Horace Walpole – found on Thursday 12 June 1823 on their way from Rome back to Genoa. The River Magra was in flood: ‘the peasants said we could pass ... with the help of a horse to our three mules and ... peasant guides’.94 Mary reflected: ‘One crosses that horrid river five times before reaching Borghetto; but the other fords were wider, and less water.’ Had Parry and the Berrys travelled in the autumn it could have been worse as, in Liguria, there is evidence that floods made travelling impossible, especially in October and November. A remarkable case in point is the story regaled in The Landscape Annual for 1833.95 The brief chapter on ‘La Spezzia’ is largely taken up with the borrowed account of a near-fatal encounter with the River Magra, which the doctor James Johnson had first set out in Change of Air, or the Diary of a Philosopher in Pursuit of Health and Recreation (1831). The incident is worth quoting in full:
How to cite
Ross Balzaretti, Pietro Piana and Charles Watkins, ‘Travelling in Italy during Turner’s Lifetime’, in David Blayney Brown (ed.), J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours, Tate Research Publication, September 2015, https://www