“Venice, the Bridge of Sighs” by J. M. W. Turner
“Venice, the Bridge of Sighs” by J. M. W. Turner depicts several famous landmarks in Venice. The enclosed “Bridge of Sighs” connects the Doge’s Palace on the left with the prisons of the Palazzo dei Prigioni to the right.
The Bridge of Sighs is an enclosed arch bridge made of white limestone, which was built in 1600. The Bridge of Sighs crossed the Rio di Palazzo waterway and has windows with stone bars. It connects the New Prison to the interrogation rooms in the Doge’s Palace.
The Doge’s Palace is a palace built in Venetian Gothic style and was the residence of the Doge of Venice, the supreme authority of the former Venetian Republic. It was founded in 1340, and extended and modified in the following centuries.
When Turner exhibited the painting in 1840, he accompanied it with lines based on Byron’s poem, Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage:
“I stood upon a bridge, a palace and
A prison on each hand.”
Indeed it was Byron who coined the name of the bridge. He derived its title from the mournful image of convicts taking their last glimpse of the city and freedom before being led down to the darkness of the cells.
Bridge of Sighs, connecting the interrogation rooms in the Doge Palace to the New Prison
Bridge of Sighs
The view from the Bridge of Sighs was the last view of Venice that convicts saw before their imprisonment. The bridge’s English name was bequeathed by Lord Byron in the 19th century. It was a translation from the Italian “Ponte dei sospiri” from the suggestion that prisoners would sigh at their final view of Venice through the window before being taken down to their cells.
In reality, little could be seen from inside the 11 meter (36 ft) long bridge due to the stone grills covering the windows. Closed and covered, it consists of two corridors separated by a wall. One corridor connects the Prisons to the main floor of the Doge’s Palace. The other corridor connects the Prisons with the Avogaria Rooms and with the Parlor.
The Doge’s Palace, home to all the governmental institutions of the Republic, including those of Justice, and the places of punishment and detention. The new building beyond the Rio di Palazzo was constructed to take these prison functions, with rooms for use by the magistrates.
The construction of these New Prisons, connected to the Palace with the subsequent creation of the Bridge of Sighs. The New Prisons represent one of the first examples in Europe, of an isolated, single-block building, as a state prison.
J. M. W. Turner
Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775 – 1851), later more commonly called J. M. W. Turner, entered the Royal Academy of Art in 1789, aged 14, and his first watercolor was accepted for the Royal Academy summer exhibition of 1790 when Turner was 15. From a young art student trained in executing topographical watercolors, he became one of the most original artists of his time.
Turner was a Romantic painter, printmaker, and watercolorist, today known for his vivid coloration, imaginative landscapes, and turbulent marine paintings. As a private, eccentric, and reclusive figure, Turner was controversial throughout his career. He left over 2,000 paintings and 19,000 drawings and sketches.
Venice, the Bridge of Sighs
- Title: Venice, the Bridge of Sighs
- Artist: J. M. W. Turner
- Date: 1840
- Medium: Oil on canvas
- Dimensions: Height: 686 cm (22.5 ft); Width: 914 cm (29.9 ft)
- Museum: Tate Britain
Joseph Mallord William Turner
- Name: Joseph Mallord William Turner
- Born: 1775 – Covent Garden, London, England
- Died: 1851 (aged 76) – Cheyne Walk, Chelsea, England
- Nationality: English
- Movement: Romanticism
- Notable works:
- The Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons
- The Fighting Temeraire
- Modern Rome – Campo Vaccino
- The Burning of the Houses of Parliament
- Newport Castle
- The Grand Canal, Venice
- Rain, Steam, and Speed – The Great Western Railway
- Dido Building Carthage
- Snow Storm: Steam-Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth
- The Slave Ship
- Snow Storm: Hannibal and his Army Crossing the Alps
- The Decline of the Carthaginian Empire
- Venice, the Bridge of Sighs
“And enormous mother whales lie dreaming suckling their whale-tender young and dreaming with strange whale eyes wide open in the waters of the beginning and the end.”
– D. H. Lawrence
Photo Credit: 1) J. M. W. Turner / CC0 via Wikimedia Commons; Albarubescens / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)