View this artwork by appointment, at Tate Britain's Prints and Drawings Rooms
Part of Turner’s trip to Tivoli in 1819 included a detour to the Villa Adriana (Hadrian’s Villa), an 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’s visit to the Villa Adriana seems to have been necessarily brief, but he used the time that was available to him to make several swift studies of the key buildings of interest, see folios 2 and 33–36 (D14935 and D14986–D14992). As Cecilia Powell first correctly identified, this page contains sketches of the Praetorium (a pavilion with a panoramic view overlooking the estate) and the Large Baths (Grande Terme).2 The drawings in the top right-hand corner and at the bottom of the sheet both represent the same vista, a view of the Large Baths looking east from the path leading to the Canopus. The remaining study, at the top of the page, meanwhile depicts the Praetorium leading to the Serapeum from the same path. Further sketches from a similar viewpoint can be seen on folio 33 (D14986).