Joseph Mallord William Turner

Bridge of Augustus, Narni

1819

View this artwork by appointment, at Tate Britain's Prints and Drawings Rooms

Artist
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Medium
Graphite on paper
Dimensions
Support: 110 x 186 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Reference
D14773
Turner Bequest CLXXVII 62

Catalogue entry

Turner devoted a considerable number of sketches to the Roman Bridge of Augustus (Ponte d’Augusto) at Narni, one of the most famous landmarks in Umbria, see folio 61 verso (D14772). This view, depicting the single surviving arch and the remains of the other supporting piers, was drawn from the centre of the adjacent medieval bridge looking west along the gorge of the River Nera. Framed within the arch is the distant hillside monastery of San Cassiano. In the left-hand foreground two tiny stooping figures provide a sense of the grand scale of the remains. The drawing is continued on folio 63 (D14775), where the artist has folded back the page in order to complete the sketch on the sheet below.
Whether deliberately or subconsciously, Turner has replicated the same composition as that of his watercolour illustration, The Bridge at Narni (whereabouts unknown),1 based upon a drawing by James Hakewill for the latter’s Picturesque Tour of Italy, published 1819 (see Tate T05079 and T06014).2 The accompanying text described the picturesque properties of the vista:
There are few relics of antiquity that impress the traveller with greater ideas of Roman magnificence than the sight of this bridge affords ... the situation of the convent, which appears through the arch of the bridge is one of the most romantic that can be imagined; it stands on an eminence rising abruptly from the river bank, encircled by a lofty amphitheatre of rocks clothed from top to bottom with cypress, laurel, olive and ilex.3
In fact, the view was an established motif for eighteenth- and nineteenth-century topographical artists, see for example James Redaway’s engraving after Samuel Prout, Bridge of Augustus at Narni 1830 (Tate, T06439) and Turner’s small pen-and-ink copy of a print after John ‘Warwick’ Smith in the Italian Guide Book sketchbook (Tate D13964; Turner Bequest CLXXII 18).

Nicola Moorby
November 2008

1
Andrew Wilton, The Life and Work of J.M.W. Turner, Fribourg 1979, no.702. Previous owners include Munro of Novar and John Ruskin. see also W.G. Rawlinson, The Engraved Work of J.M.W. Turner, R.A., vol.I, London 1908, no.146.
2
Tony Cubberley and Luke Herrmann, Twilight of the Grand Tour: A Catalogue of the drawings by James Hakewill in the British School at Rome Library, Rome 1992, no.2.52, reproduced p.169. See also W.G. Rawlinson, The Engraved Work of J.M.W. Turner, R.A., vol.I, London 1908, no.146.
3
James Hakewill, A Picturesque Tour of Italy from Drawings made in 1816–1817, London 1820, [pp.47–8].

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