In the summer, one’s thoughts turn to travel – experiences in distant destinations, often captured in diaries and sketchbooks. But in the era of COVID-19, mobility is limited, and one must often resort to vicarious voyages.
Consider Joseph Mallord William Turner. He traveled to Italy twice, in 1819 and 1828-9. On both occasions he passed through Turin and made numerous sketches of the city and its surroundings in his sketchbooks now preserved in the Tate. Seven years ago I referred to his drawings of baroque buildings in Turin in a blog post focusing on John Singer Sargent, but could only link to them on the Tate website. In the meantime, the Tate has made images from its collection available under a CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 license. This means one is free to include images of Turner’s sketches in a blog post as long as proper attribution is made, and his drawings certainly merit a closer look with this generous license.
On both trips to Turin, Turner sketched the chief monuments of the historic city center – the Piazza Castello with Palazzo Madama (by Filippo Juvarra), the church of San Lorenzo (by Guarino Guarini), the Palazzo Reale, and the cathedral with its campanile (upper story by Juvarra) and the Chapel of the Holy Shroud (Guarini). He also looked farther afield to Superga and the Monte dei Cappuccini. Turner seems to have been particularly enamored of the Shroud Chapel, drawing it several times from various angles. During an age characterized by backlash against the baroque opulence of previous centuries, he delighted in the prickly silhouette of the reliquary chapel.
His fascination with the building over a decade recalls the description of the chapel written nearly a century earlier by another Englishman, Joseph Spence:
“like a pineapple on the autside”
“…that celebrated dome is a collection of angles (something like a pineapple on the autside and like nothing in the world on the inside).”
– Joseph Spence (1740)*
Like a pineapple, the exterior of the Shroud Chapel is exotic and otherworldly, an artifact of a place far away from the quotidian cares of life at home.
*Joseph Spence, Letters from the Grand Tour, edited by Slava Klima (Montreal & London: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1975), quoted in Valentina Assandria, Chiara Gauna, and Giuseppina Tetti, “L’architettura descritta: viaggiatori e guide a Torino tra Sei e Settecento,” in G. Dardanello, editor, Sperimentare l’architettura. Guarini, Juvarra, Alfieri, Borra e Vittone (Turin: Fondazione CRT, 2001): 325-345; here 337.