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Although the exact subject of this loosely drawn watercolour sketch remains uncertain, it appears to show an Italian landscape, probably with the dome of St. Peter’s, Rome, on the far right-hand side. The inscription ‘Raff Villa’, located in the bottom left-hand corner, has led Jan Piggott to suggest that the building on the left may be the Villa Madama. Designed by Raphael to rival the villas of antiquity, the Villa Madama on the Janiculum hill in Rome, is one of the most famous and widely imitated villas and terraced gardens of the High Renaissance. Turner made several drawings of the Villa Madama during his visit to Italy in 1819 but none bear any resemblance to this study (see for example, Tate D16182; Turner Bequest CLXXXVIII 13a).
John Gage has also noted the similarity between this vignette composition and that of the Claudian landscape painting visible in the foreground of Rome from the Vatican exhibited 1820 (Tate, N00503).1 This picture is inscribed along it lower edge, ‘Casa di Raffaello’, and probably refers to the Casino di Raffaello, a small summerhouse which once stood in the gardens of the Villa Borghese but which was destroyed during the siege of Rome in 1849. Turner made a series of sketches of the building during his first Italian tour of 1819 (see Tate D16233; Turner Bequest CLXXXVIII 43a). Both the vignette and the painted landscape in Rome from the Vatican resemble the composition of one of these studies, see St Peter’s sketchbook (Tate D16237– D16238; Turner Bequest CLXXXVIII 45a–6).
Owing to the apparent Italianate subject matter of the work, Jan Piggott has previously linked it to Turner’s vignette studies for Rogers’s Italy (see Tate D27676; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 159). However, this is discounted by a watermark on the support which indicates a date of no earlier than 1842. In fact, the palette and composition of this study are more closely linked to two other unfinished vignette studies, both of which show unidentified subjects (Tate D27659; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 142 and Tate D40316; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 24v). All three studies were painted on off-white board and may have been cut or torn from the same sheet, suggesting that they were produced at around the same time.