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Works (?) Thomas Girtin and Joseph Mallord William Turner after (?) John Robert Cozens

A Distant View of Bergamo, from the River Serio

1794 - 1797

Primary Image: TG0688: (?) Thomas Girtin (1775–1802) and Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851), after (?) John Robert Cozens (1752–97), A Distant View of Bergamo, from the River Serio, 1794–97, graphite and watercolour on wove paper, 16.2 × 22.4 cm, 6 ⅜ × 8 ⅞ in. Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford (WA.RS.RUD.127).

Photo courtesy of Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford (All Rights Reserved)

(?) Thomas Girtin (1775-1802) and Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851) after (?) John Robert Cozens (1752-1797)
  • A Distant View of Bergamo, from the River Serio
1794 - 1797
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on wove paper
16.2 × 22.4 cm, 6 ⅜ × 8 ⅞ in
Object Type
Collaborations; Monro School Copy
Subject Terms
Italian View: The North; River Scenery

Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
Viewed in June 2021


Dr Thomas Monro (1759–1833); his posthumous sale, possibly Christie’s, 2 July 1833, lot 131, as 'Bergamo, Salerno &c., 3' by 'Turner'; bought by 'Moon, Boys', £5 5s; ... John Ruskin (1819–1900); presented to the Ruskin Drawing School (University of Oxford), 1875; transferred from the Ruskin Drawing School to the Ashmolean Museum, c.1949

Exhibition History

London, 1878, no.4 as ’Bergamo’ by Joseph Mallord William Turner


Ruskin, 1878, p.15; Armstrong, 1902, p.242 as by Joseph Mallord William Turner; Herrmann, 1968, no.63, pp.88–89 as by Joseph Mallord William Turner; Ashmolean Collections Online as by Joseph Mallord William Turner (Accessed 08/09/2022)

About this Work

This distant view of the hill town of Bergamo from the river Serio, with the snow-clad Alps behind, displays many of the signs that mark the unique collaboration between Girtin and his contemporary Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851) at the home of Dr Thomas Monro (1759–1833). Here they were employed across three winters, probably between 1794 and 1797, to make ‘finished drawings’ from the ‘Copies’ of the ‘outlines or unfinished drawings of Cozens’ and other artists, amateur and professional, either from Monro’s collection or lent for the purpose. As the two young artists later recalled, Girtin generally ‘drew in outlines and Turner washed in the effects’. ‘They went at 6 and staid till Ten’, and, as the diarist Joseph Farington (1747–1821) reported, Turner received ‘3s. 6d each night’, though ‘Girtin did not say what He had’ (Farington, Diary, 12 November 1798).1

As with many of the Italian views completed at Monro’s home, it has not been possible to trace the source of this image, one of three taken in the vicinity of Bergamo all seen from the river Serio, a few kilometres to the east (the others being TG0687 and TG0689). In general, Girtin and Turner worked from compositions by John Robert Cozens (1752–97) and, more specifically, from sketches and tracings that he made during or after his two Italian visits, in 1776–79 and 1782–83. The auction of the artist’s work held in July 1794 contained twenty-seven ‘books of sketches’ and many hundreds of drawings made on his travels, and, as Kim Sloan has argued, given that Monro’s posthumous sale included only a few sketches by Cozens, the patron must have borrowed much of the material from which Girtin and Turner worked (Sloan and Joyner, 1993, pp.81–82).2 In this case, the Cozens sketch either has not survived or has not been recognised as his work, and nor is it entirely clear on which visit it was made. However, although Cozens made a series of views on nearby Lake Maggiore in 1783, the sequence of dated drawings in his sketchbooks from that trip do not suggest that he had time to make a diversion during his return to England, and Bergamo fits more easily into his itinerary in the autumn of 1776, when he journeyed through northern Italy on the way from Switzerland to Rome.

The work was once owned by the Victorian critic and writer John Ruskin (1819–1900), who stated in 1878 that this ‘wonderful little drawing is the earliest example I can give of the great distinctive passion of Turner’s nature’, and the attribution of the drawing to Turner alone has not been challenged since (Ruskin, 1878, p.15). This is not surprising since the carefully worked washes of colour have entirely effaced any pencil work that might indicate Girtin’s involvement in the work’s production, and, though he may have been responsible for the basic outline drawing from which Turner developed his watercolour, since this plays no part in the overall effect, it is impossible to establish Girtin’s involvement. It is not clear why Turner should in this particular case have taken the work to such a degree of finish, however. Ruskin thought that the ‘solemnity of feeling in the colour and [the] simple design’ of the composition, with a prominent shrine on the hill to the left, expressed Turner’s ‘sympathy with sorrow’, though as it was a commission from Monro we might be more inclined to see it as a reflection of the patron’s interests (Ruskin, 1878, p.15).

1794 - 1797

Bergamo, from the Banks of the River Serio


1794 - 1797

Gorle, on the River Serio, near Bergamo


by Greg Smith

Place depicted


  1. 1 The full diary entry, giving crucial details of the artists’ work at Monro’s house, is transcribed in the Documents section of the Archive (1798 – Item 2).
  2. 2 A full record of the sale is available in the Documents section of the Archive (1794 – Item 1)

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