Venice, from the Porch of Madonna della Salute by Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851). c.1835. Oil on canvas, 36 x 48 1/8 in. (91.4 x 122.2 cm). Courtesy of Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. (Accession no. 99.31. Bequest of Cornelius Vanderbilt, 1899.) Click on image to enlarge it.

Commentary from Metropolitan Museum Online

Turner made three trips to Venice, in the late summers of 1819, 1833, and 1840, and the present painting, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1835, must have been painted upon his return from his second visit, presumably using his own drawings and watercolors as source materials. Critical commentary was extensive and mostly favorable, and when its first owner, Munro of Novar, sold it in 1860, John Ruskin Senior proposed to Gambart that twenty gentlemen should be found who would contribute to the purchase price so that, "as Turner is so little known and so little esteemed on the Continent," the work could be presented to the Louvre.

Among the pencil drawings in the 1819 Milan-to-Venice sketchbook in the Turner Bequest at Tate Britain, London, there are two that could perhaps have been used as aides-mémoire. The first (Finberg no. CLXXV, fol. 54), quite detailed and showing the church of Santa Maria della Salute from the opposite direction, was made from the other side of the Grand Canal. The second (Finberg no. CLXXV, fol. 67a), slighter, must have been drawn from a boat and illustrates the mouth of the canal, with palaces in front of the bell tower of San Marco to the left and the Dogana, or customs house, to the right. There is a related watercolor, from either 1833 or 1840, at the Tate (Finberg no. CCCXVII b 23) and another, of about 1840, in the British Museum (1958,0712.443).

The painting was engraved twice, in 1838 by William Miller and in 1850 by Robert Brandard. Both prints include Turner’s initials on a plank at the lower left, but these are not found on the painting and as far as is known were never there. John Ruskin owned an example of Miller’s engraving and greatly admired it, mentioning it often in his writings.

The title, Turner’s own, is not an accurate description of his subject. Longhena’s Baroque church of Santa Maria della Salute does not have a porch, and no view of Venice from the church resembles this one, which is a bird’s-eye view taken from a height above the Grand Canal that can only be imagined. There are discrepancies of scale and topographical detail, all of which represent choices made by a skilled draftsman who could have shown exactly what he had seen had he wished to do so. Turner brings the wealth of his experience as a marine painter and the brilliance of his technique as a watercolorist to the problem of merging the foundations of the palaces of Venice into the waters of the lagoon with its delicate reflections.

[2012; adapted from Baetjer 2009]

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Last modified 16 May 2016