The subject of this sketch is a large and ancient Mediterranean umbrella pine which stood in the gardens of the Colonna family on the slopes of the Quirinal Hill, adjacent to the Palazzo Colonna.1 Owing to its immense size and location it was known as the ‘Colonna Pine’, and it was a well-known attraction for English visitors to Rome, as described by Charlotte Eaton in Rome in the Nineteenth Century (1820):
The garden hangs on the steep side of the Quirinal Hill, on the summit of which the broken but massive fragments of an immense pediment of Parian marble, covered with finest sculpture, repose on the soft green turf, overshadowed by an ancient pine. It was just such a combination that a painter would have wished. It was more than picturesque. It was what his fancy could never have formed, but his taste must at once have selected.2
Like Tasso’s oak on the Janiculum Hill, the tree represented a popular subject for artists until the mid-nineteenth century when it was destroyed by a storm. Turner would probably have been familiar with two drawings by James Hakewill (1778–1843), his collaborator on Picturesque Views in Italy in 1818.3
This drawing depicts a view of the tree from the north. In the background can be seen the Torre dei Milize and the dome of Santissimo Nome di Maria in the Forum of Trajan. Meanwhile the ruined fragments in the foreground are blocks of marble from the Temple of Serapis built by Emperor Caracalla. Related sketches can be found on folios 27 and 28 verso (D15155 and D15158; Turner Bequest CLXXX 26 and 27a).
Confirmed by Thomas Ashby, unpublished notes, Turner Bequest Archive, Tate.
Charlotte Eaton, Rome in the Nineteenth Century, quoted in Tony Cubberley and Luke Herrmann, Twilight of the Grand Tour: A Catalogue of the drawings by James Hakewill in the British School at Rome Library, Rome 1992, p.197.
The Colonna Pine and The Colonna Pine, Rome 1817 (British School at Rome Library). See Cubberley and Herrmann, nos.3.17 and 3.19, reproduced pp.197 and 200.