The subject of this sketch is the Forum Boarium, the oldest public space in Rome, situated just south of the Capitoline and east of the Isola Tiberina. In order to capture all the various architectural elements Turner must have been standing at the northern end next to the western face of the Temple of Portunus (described erroneously during Turner’s day as the Temple of Fortuna Virilis), looking ahead to the circular Temple of Hercules Victor on the right (sometimes called the Temple of Vesta). Beyond is the campanile of the Church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, the location of Rome’s famous ‘Bocca della Verità’, or Mouth of Truth. Also just visible is the base of the Fontana dei Tritoni, the Baroque fountain built by Carlo Bizzaccheri in the centre of the piazza.
The composition demonstrates Turner’s characteristic economy when sketching on the spot. It is accurate in its essential record of spatial relationships but lacks particulars or tonal definition. The artist has only indicated part of the top of one of the fluted Ionic columns of the Temple of Portunus and has not troubled to repeat similar detail on the others.