Joseph Mallord William Turner

Sketches of the Villa Adriana, Tivoli: the Greek Library Seen from the Maritime Theatre


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

Graphite on paper
Support: 112 x 186 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CLXXIX 35

Catalogue entry

Part of Turner’s trip to Tivoli in 1819 included a detour to the elaborate palace and garden complex approximately one mile south-west of the town. Built during the second century for the Roman Emperor Hadrian, it was designed as an imperial summer retreat filled with architectural recreations of celebrated buildings of the world. An important archaeological site, it had long been had been plundered for its statutes and marble, and many of its treasures had been removed during the sixteenth century to decorate the newly built Villa d’Este. During the eighteenth century, extensive excavations had occurred under the direction of the Scottish artist and dealer, Gavin Hamilton (1723–1798) who sold many of his finds to British clients, and the Villa became a popular attraction for British travellers on the Grand Tour. Its ruins and treasures were also made famous through the prints of Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720–1778) who worked and studied at the Villa for many years.1
Turner made several swift studies during a brief visit to the Villa Adriana, the imperial summer residence of the Roman Emperor Hadrian, approximately a mile to the south-west of Tivoli, see folio 32 verso (D14985). As Cecilia Powell first identified, the subject of these two sketches is the tall ruins of the Greek Library (Biblioteca Greca, actually a guest hall) seen from within the so-called Maritime Theatre, a small villa on an artificial island, surrounded by a circular pool and portico.2 Alternative views of the Greek Library can be found on folios 35 verso–36 (D14991–D14992).

Nicola Moorby
January 2010

William L. Macdonald and John A. Pinto, Hadrian’s Villa and Its Legacy, New Haven and London 1995, pp.246–65.
Powell 1984, p.410; see the photograph in William L. Macdonald and John A. Pinto, Hadrian’s Villa and Its Legacy, New Haven and London 1995, fig.102, p.[86].

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