J. M. W. Turner - Campo Santo, Venice 1841

Campo Santo, Venice 1841
Campo Santo, Venice
1841 61x91cm oil/canvas
Toledo Museum of Art, Toledo, OH, USA

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From Toledo Museum of Art:
Venice is splendid even in its decline in J. M. W. Turner's radiant view north across the lagoon. The city is to the left and the cemetery island of San Michele (the Campo Santo of Turner's title) is in the distance on the right. This unimposing locale was not often depicted, as it lacked impressive monuments or other reminders of the city's grand and powerful past. For Turner the cemetery, a fairly recent addition to Venice, may have stood as a fitting symbol of the death of this great imperial city. There are subtle intimations of decline and death in the picturesque yet lowly vessels and floating debris in the foreground. The brilliant white sails of the twin-masted felucca are greatly elongated and further extended by their reflections; their resemblance to angel's wings stresses the theme of mortality.
Such historical and poetic associations may have been even clearer when Turner showed this painting at the Royal Academy, London, in 1842 with its pendant (now in the Tate Britain, London), an historic view of prosperous Venice, its cargo-laden boats arrayed before the Customs House. Venice came to have special significance for Turner; he made three trips there and painted it many times. The colors in The Campo Santo, Venice are brilliant yet delicate, the whites radiant, the whole made more luminous by the paint's translucency over a white ground. In the overall brightness and soft, fluid brushwork, solid forms are fused with their reflections and absorbed into light. Venice appears shimmering and ethereal. Even in its death Turner celebrates Venice's enduring loveliness and asserts the eternal glory of Nature, giving visual expression to Lord Byron's words about Venice in Childe Harold's Pilgrimage: "Those days are gone—but Beauty still is here. States fall, arts fade—but Nature doth not die."