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This sketch is part of a view of Rome encompassing the Aventine Hill in the south to St Peter’s in the north. As Cecilia Powell first identified, the prospect is taken from the tower of the Senatorial Palace on the Capitoline Hill, one of the most popular vantage points in the city.1 In his diary, the poet Thomas Moore recorded that Turner was seen at the top of the tower in 1819 by a friend, one Colonel Camac.2 The latter provoked Turner’s displeasure when he seized the artist’s umbrella to shield the Princess of Denmark from the wind, much to her delight and Turner’s annoyance.3 It is likely that this episode interrupted Turner’s attempts to make a complete record of the 360-degree view of the city, as seen here, spread across four double-page spreads, see folios 74 verso–79 (D16293–D16300; Turner Bequest CLXXXVIII 74a–78).
Turner’s treatment of the view reflects the vogue for urban panoramas, a popular form of public entertainment which was at its height in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The invention of Robert Barker (1739–1806) who patented the design in 1787, panoramas were vast painted images which surrounded the viewer, creating the illusion of actually being in front of the subject.4 The scenes, exhibited in purpose-built rotundas, could be semi-circular, depicting a view of 180 degrees, or 360 degrees, representing a complete view in the round.5 As Barker wrote in his patent, the artist must first find a situation from which he can see ‘an entire view ... as it appears to an observer turning quite round’ and from there ‘delineate correctly and connectedly every object which presents itself to his view as he turns’.6 As well as views of cities and landscapes, popular subjects included historic and contemporary themes, such as battles or other topical events. The first panorama in London was built in Leicester Square but such was the public enthusiasm for them that others followed in the Strand, Regents Park and Spring Gardens. At the Leicester Square panorama alone, 126 views were exhibited during its lifetime, between 1793–1863.7
Powell 1984, pp.223 and 427.
Lord John Russell (ed.), Memoirs, Journal and Correspondence of Thomas Moore, London 1853, vol.III, pp.104–5.
Ralph Hyde, ‘Turner’s Times – Panoramania: Art and Showmanship’, lecture, Tate Gallery, London, 4 June 1987, Tate Archive. TAV 686 A.
Robert Barker, ‘Repertory of Arts and Manufactures’, 1796, quoted in Greg Smith, Thomas Girtin: the Art of Watercolour, exhibition catalogue, Tate Britain, London 2002, p.189.
Bernard Comment, The Panorama, London 1999, p.25.
James Hamilton, Turner: A Life, London 1997, p.29.
Powell 1984, pp.222–3. Other Italian subjects shown in London during Turner’s lifetime included views of Florence, Naples, Venice, Milan, Pompeii and the surrounding country, and a description of the interior of the Colosseum.
See R.R. Reinagle, An Explanation of the View of Rome, Taken from the Capitol: Now Exhibiting at the Panorama near the new church in the Strand, London 1802 and An Explanation of the View of Rome, taken from the Tower of the Capitol, Now Exhibiting at H.A. Barker and J. Burford’s Panorama, near the new Church in the Strand, London 1817.
An Explanation of the View of Rome, taken from the Tower of the Capitol, Now Exhibiting at H.A. Barker and J. Burford’s Panorama, near the new Church in the Strand, London 1817, [p.3].