Joseph Mallord William Turner

The Arch of Constantine and the Colosseum, Rome

1819

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

Artist
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Medium
Graphite and watercolour on paper
Dimensions
Support: 233 x 368 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Reference
D16355
Turner Bequest CLXXXIX 29

Catalogue entry

The subject of this drawing is the southern façade of the Arch of Constantine with the Colosseum beyond. Dating from the fourth century AD, the Arch of Constantine was built to celebrate the victory of the Emperor Constantine over his co-ruler Maxentius at the Battle of Milvian Bridge. Unlike the nearby Arches of Titus and Septimius Severus, it had been fully excavated and restored by 1804, and Turner was therefore able to experience it as it was meant to be seen; an impressive free-standing structure standing at the top of the Via di San Gregorio.1 The monument was renowned for the well-preserved state of the decorations adorning the exterior, many of which were taken from other buildings dedicated to earlier emperors. Turner’s study provides a careful and methodical record of those bas-reliefs and their placement across the Arch. It also incorporates a copy, albeit slightly inaccurate, of the Latin inscription from the attic. Turner’s transcription reads:
IMP.CAES. FL. CONSTANTINO.MAXIMO | P.F. AGVSTO . SPQR | OVODINSTINCT.VDIVINITATIS. AENT | MAGNITVDINECVMEXE.RCITVSVD | TAM DETYRANNODVAMDECMNIEIVS | FACTIONEVNO TEMPOREIVSTIS | REMPVBLICAM VLVSESTRAMIS | ARCVM TRIPIVMPHISINIGNEMDIVAVIT
The actual text is thus:
IMP • CAES • FL • CONSTANTINO • MAXIMO | P • F • AVGUSTO • S • P • Q • R | QVOD • INSTINCTV • DIVINITATIS • MENTIS | MAGNITVDINE • CVM • EXERCITV • SVO | TAM • DE • TYRANNO • QVAM • DE • OMNI • EIVS | FACTIONE • VNO • TEMPORE • IVSTIS | REMPVBLICAM • VLTVS • EST • ARMIS | ARCVM • TRIVMPHIS •INSIGNEM • DICAVIT
[To the Emperor Caesar Flavius Constantinus, the greatest, pious, and blessed Augustus: because he, inspired by the divine, and by the greatness of his mind, has delivered the state from the tyrant and all of his followers at the same time, with his army and just force of arms, the Senate and People of Rome have dedicated this arch, decorated with triumphs]
Visible through the left side arch of the monument is the remains of the Meta Sudans, a conical fountain dating from the first century AD. It was demolished in 1936 by Mussolini to enable traffic to circle the Colosseum but the excavated foundations can still be seen today.
1
Christopher Hibbert, Rome: The Biography of a City, London 1985, p.331.
2
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, no.438.
3
Powell 1984, p.112; and Powell 1987, p.38.
4
Luigi Ficacci, Piranesi: The Complete Etchings, Köln and London 2000, no.890, reproduced p.696.
5
Ibid., no.970, p.739.
6
Ibid., no.968, p.738.
7
Reproduced in Powell 1987, p.[40], fig.41.

Nicola Moorby
July 2009

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