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This sketch depicts a view of the Bay of Baiae, an ancient Roman bathing resort approximately ten miles west of Naples. Turner’s viewpoint appears to be standing near the so-called Temple of Mercury looking south-east towards the Castello di Baia (Castle of Baiae), a former Aragonese fortress built to defend the Gulf of Pozzuoli. The castle was rebuilt during the sixteenth century after the eruption of nearby Monte Nuovo. Visible along the distant horizon is the coastline of Posillipo and the island of Nisida, whilst in the foreground on the right is an octagonal ruined bath-house, known as the Temple of Venus. The composition spills over onto the opposite sheet of the double-page spread, see folio 80 verso (D15714; Turner Bequest CLXXXIV 79). The details of the drawing are somewhat obscured by the dark spots covering the page. A number of scholars have followed John Gage’s suggestion that these were made by a shower of hot volcanic ash, probably dating from Turner’s ascent of Vesuvius, see folio 46 verso (D15645; Turner Bequest CLXXXIV 44a).1 More recently, however, James Hamilton has argued the marks were made by a spattering of a ‘light inky paint’.2
Turner made a large number of sketches of Baiae and its ancient monuments, see folios 79 verso–80 verso, 82, 84 verso–89 verso, 92 (D15712–D15714, D15717, D15722–D15732 and D15737; Turner Bequest CLXXXIV 77a–78a, 80, 82a–87a and 90). These studies formed the compositional basis of one of three oil paintings completed in the months and years following Turner’s return from his first tour of Italy, The Bay of Baiae, with Apollo and the Sibyl exhibited 1823 (Tate, N00505).3 Indeed the finished picture features a vista very similar to that depicted here and repeated within other on-the-spot drawings, and it is therefore possible that the artist was already planning the composition during his visit to the area.4
See for example Gage 1969, p.131; Powell 1984, pp.180 and 492 note 42; Powell 1987, p.79 and Anthony Bailey, Standing in the Sun: A Life of J.M.W. Turner, London 1997, p.246.
Hamilton 1998, p.135 note 28.
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, no.230.
Powell 1984, pp.188, 247–8 and Powell 1987, pp.83 and 120.