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The viewpoint for this vista was first identified by Thomas Ashby as the gardens of the Villa Mellini, a fifteenth-century house built on the summit of the southern spur of Monte Mario for Cardinal Mario Mellini, after whom the hill is named.1 Today the building houses the Rome observatory and meteorological station but during the nineteenth century it was noteworthy as the location for one of the best panoramic views across the city. John Chetwode Eustace described the prospect in A Classical Tour Through Italy:
One of the most conspicuous objects in the immediate neighbourhood of Rome is the Monte Mario ... a bold eminence lying about a mile north-west from the Porta-Angelica, clothed with vineyards and crowned with groves of cypress and poplar. On its summit rises the Villa Mellini, remarkable for the noble view that lies expanded under its terrace. The Tiber intersecting the city and winding through rich meadows; the Prata Quintia and Prata Mutia, fields still bearing their names, the trophies of Roman virtue and Roman heroism; the Pons Milvius with its tower, and the plains consecrated by the victory of Constantine; the Vatican Palace with its courts and gardens; the Basilica of St Peter with its portico, its obelisk, and its fountains, the Campus Martius covered with the churches, squares and palaces of the modern city; the seven hills strewed with ruins of the ancient; the walls with their towers and galleries; the desert Campagna, with Mount Soracte rising apparently in the centre; and the semi-circular sweep of mountains tinged with blue or purple, now bright with the sun, now dark in the shade, and generally gleaming with snow – such is the varied and magnificent scene spread out before the traveller, while reposing on the shaded terrace of Villa Mellini.2
In this composition the dome of St Peter’s can be seen in the middle distance on the right-hand side whilst in the background is the distant line of the Alban Hills. In the foreground are the stone pines and poplar trees which characterise the crest of the Monte Mario, and the stone balustrade of the Villa Mellini. Another study of the panorama looking north towards the Ponte Molle can be found on folio 28 verso (D16444; Turner Bequest CXC 33a). Further sketches can also be found in the St Peter’s sketchbook (see Tate D16174; Turner Bequest CLXXXVIII 9a) and the Rome C. Studies sketchbook (Tate D16337, D16360; Turner Bequest CLXXXIX 11, 33).