The tallest of the legendary Seven Hills of Rome, the Quirinal Hill lies to the north-east of the historic centre of the city, just south of the Borghese Gardens. In the nineteenth century the area was still known by its popular medieval name, the Monte Cavallo (Hill of the Horses), derived from a colossal pair of statues known as the ‘Dioscuri’ or ‘Horse Tamers’, which had stood there since the Middle Ages. Roman copies of Greek originals, the statues represent the twins, Castor and Pollux, each holding a prancing horse. During the 1780s, they were repositioned in the Piazza del Quirinale on either side of an Egyptian obelisk and in 1818, the addition of an antique granite basin transformed the group into a fountain, the Fontana dei Dioscuri. This sketch depicts the back of the monument as seen from the south-east corner of the piazza, looking across towards the Palazzo Quirinale, the summer palace of the Popes.1 Turner’s composition is very similar to that of Piranesi’s eighteenth-century etching, Veduta della Piazza di Monte Cavallo, from the Vedute di Roma.2 For an alternative view of the Dioscuri before the addition of the fountain see James Hakewill’s 1816 drawing, Rome. Monte Cavallo (British School at Rome).3
Today the palace is the official residence of the Italian head of state.
Luigi Ficacci, Piranesi: The Complete Etchings, Köln and London 2000, no.974, reproduced p.742.
Tony Cubberley and Luke Herrmann, Twilight of the Grand Tour: A catalogue of the drawings by James Hakewill inthe British School at Rome Library, Rome 1992, p.191. no.313, reproduced.