View this artwork by appointment, at Tate Britain's Prints and Drawings Rooms
Like many eighteenth- and nineteenth-century visitors to Rome, part of Turner’s exploration of the city included the panoramic views seen from certain elevated vantage points. One of the most famous of these was the Janiculum Hill (or Gianicolo), a ridge of high ground to the west of the River Tiber which offered sweeping vistas across the historical centre of the capital. The viewpoint for this composition is the Church of San Pietro in Montorio which stands at the southern end of the hill. The panorama looks east across the Trastevere district of the city, past the River Tiber towards the Capitoline and Palatine Hills, and in the far background, the distant line of the Alban Hills. Turner also made very swift and rough sketches from the same viewpoint in the Albano, Nemi, Rome sketchbook (see Tate D15447–D15449; Turner Bequest CLXXXII 78a–79a).
In common with many of the drawings within this sketchbook Turner has created highlights by scratching or rubbing through the grey watercolour wash to reveal the paper beneath. In this instance this technical device creates a comprehensive and unified horizon where many of the major landmarks are picked out in white. These include, from left to right: the Torre dei Milize; the two domes and obelisk of the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore; the tower of the Palazzo Senatorio on the Capitoline Hill (not highlighted); the Temple of Antoninus and Faustina in the Roman Forum; the massive arches of the Basilica of Constantine; the Colosseum; and beneath this, San Giorgio in Velabro and the round Temple of Hercules Victor in the Forum Boarium; the vast ruined substructures of the Palatine Hill, with the statues surmounting the façade of San Giovanni in Laterano just visible beyond; and finally on the far right-hand side, the section of the Aurelian Walls which leads from the Aventine Hill to the River Tiber. Within the foreground, the key features are, from left to right: the piazza in front of San Pietro in Montorio and the campanile of Santa Maria in Trastevere; the pointed tower of San Crisogono in the centre of the drawing; and on the right the tower of Santa Cecilia in Trastevere. As Cecilia Powell first identified,1 this sketch provides the compositional basis for Rome, San Pietro in Montorio circa 1820–1 (Courtauld Institute of Art, London).2 This finished watercolour was one of a number of Italian views painted after the 1819 tour for Turner’s great friend and patron, Walter Fawkes. The topographical details, and even the trees in the immediate foreground, are extremely close to Turner’s original sketch.
Powell 1982, p.48.
Andrew Wilton, The Life and Work of J.M.W. Turner, Fribourg 1979, no.720, as ‘Rome, from the Pincian Hill’. First identified with correct title by David Hill in Turner in Yorkshire, exhibition catalogue, York City Art Gallery, York 1980, no.97, p.64. Reproduced in colour in Selbourne, Wilton and Powell 2008, no.16.