Joseph Mallord William Turner

The Colonnacce, Rome


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

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 114 x 189 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CLXXXVIII 15 a

Catalogue entry

This surviving pair of columns is one of several which once stood in the Forum of Nerva, an area also known as the Forum Transitorium, adjacent to the Forum of Augustus, see folio 14 verso (D16184). With the entablature and attic above, the columns, known as ‘Le Colonnacce’ (Broken Columns), form a portico at the east end of the Forum, highly decorated with bas-relief sculptures. Formerly known as the Temple of Pallas, or the Temple of Minerva owing to the large relief of the goddess Minerva found in the attic space between the columns.
As Cecilia Powell has discussed, the columns and entablature were greatly admired during the nineteenth century.1 Charlotte Eaton, for example, who visited Italy just before Turner, described the monument in Rome in the Nineteenth Century:
This building consists of two marble Corinthian columns in front of this wall, more than half buried beneath the pavement, supporting a frieze richly sculpted with figures emblematical of the arts of Pallas; and in the centre of the perfect and highly ornamental entablature stands the relievo of the goddess herself ... Whatever the building may be, the sculpture of the frieze, the whole entablature and the columns, are beautiful. They are perhaps too beautiful, or at least too beautified; and in a style rather too florid for true taste; but the ornaments are strictly correct and appropriate; the only fault is they are in excess.2
The angle of Turner’s viewpoint is similar to that in Piranesi’s etching ‘Veduta di altri avanzi del predetto Foro di Nerva detti le Colonnacce’, a plate from volume I of Le antichità Romane, first published 1756.3
Cecilia Powell has noted how Turner recorded the friezes partially in situ on this page and partially on their own, see folio 16 (D16187), which may have presented problems when attempting to recreate their relationship as a whole later on.4

Nicola Moorby
September 2008

Powell 1984, p.476 note 10.
Charlotte Eaton, Rome in the Nineteenth Century, vol.1, 1822, pp.323–4.
Luigi Ficacci, Piranesi: The Complete Etchings, Köln and London 2000, no.193, reproduced p.200.
Powell 1987, p.57.

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