Venice is radiant, if somewhat shabby, in Joseph Mallord William Turner’s view north across the Venetian Lagoon. The city is to the left and the cemetery island of San Michele (the Campo Santo of the title) is on the right. Lacking impressive monuments, this unimposing locale was not often depicted. For Turner the cemetery, a fairly recent addition to Venice, may have stood as a fitting symbol of the slow demise in the 19th century of this once powerful imperial city. Suggestions of decline may be intended by the floating debris and the lowly (though picturesque) boats in the foreground.
In the luminous colors and soft, fluid brushwork, solid forms are fused with their reflections and absorbed into light. Venice appears shimmering and ethereal. As fellow British painter John Constable (see Arundel Mill and Castle in this gallery) remarked of Turner, “He seems to paint with tinted steam, so evanescent and so airy.”