In Juliet and her Nurse, Joseph Mallord William Turner presents a view of the main Piazza and the eastern parts of Venice from high above the western end of the Procuratie Nuove, close to the rooftops of the Hotel Europa in which he stayed. At the centre is the Campanile and Basilica of San Marco, the red bricks of the tower emphasizing the unnaturally whitened, almost ghostly domes. To its right is the distinctive upper level of the Doge's Palace, which appears somewhat compressed in Turner's rendering of it. The building with the attenuated cupola to the right is the Zecca, or Mint. Just above this, two vertical strokes of Turner's brush indicate the famous columns of the Lion of San Marco and San Theodore, standing in the Piazzetta. From there the paved Riva degli Schiavoni stretches into the distance, fringed by countless boats. Off to the right, fireworks explode above the larger vessels moored in the harbour alongside Palladio's church of San Giorgio Maggiore. In the square, a mass of revellers are dressed for carnival, their attention divided between musicians, puppet shows and the burst of fireworks alongside Florian's café.
This work is a nocturnal scene where fire erupts into the darkness, captivating the onlookers. Some scholars have speculated that Turner exploited these effects to play on the well-established comparison between the formerly great Venice, then subject to Austrian law, and contemporary London.
The title of the picture, however, invoked Shakespeare's play Romeo and Juliet, the festive Piazza presumably standing in for the Capulet's ball. The young John Ruskin (1819-1900), later an influential writer on art and society, was among those who have taken up the challenge of defending Turner's iconography and his alleged topographical infelicities in the depiction of Venice. But, ultimately, the picture needs no apologist, for it is one of the most appealingly atmospheric canvases of the second half of Turner's career: its powerful combination of dynamic perspective and punctuating bursts of light is readily apparent.