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The Forum is an area of ruined temples, monuments and basilicas in the centre of Rome which represented the heart of political, commercial and judicial life in the ancient city. Over the centuries the Forum had been allowed to decay and, as depicted by Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720–1778) in his famous engraving Veduta di Campo Vaccino from the Veduta di Roma, the grand structures were left to become buried beneath rubble.1 Meanwhile, the area became known as the ‘Campo Vaccino’ (Field of Cattle), a ‘contemptible appellation’ according to Reverend John Chetwode Eustace, which degraded the former memory of imperial power and glory, but which reflected the modern usage of the site as a market for livestock.2 By the nineteenth century, excavations had begun in earnest on the site and the broken fragments of Roman architecture had begun to re-emerge. During his 1819 sojourn in Rome, Turner made numerous sketches of the Forum in several different sketchbooks.
The subject of this sketch is the north-west end of the Roman Forum looking towards the eight surviving columns of the Temple of Saturn, a fourth-century reconstruction of an older temple dedicated to the mythical god-king of Italy. To the right of this is another set of ruins, the first century Temple of Vespasian, built by the Emperor’s son Domitian in 86 AD, of which three columns remain. Turner’s transcription of the Latin inscription on the entablature of the latter is slightly inaccurate; it should read ‘ESTITVER’. The backdrop to the ruins is the rear façade and bell-tower of the Palazzo Senatorio, which as Turner indicates belongs to the ‘Cap[itoline]’ hill. Formerly the home of the Senate, the building is now the headquarters of the city council and mayor, and the repository of the Tabularium, or State archives. Turner had already painted a similar but broader viewpoint in his watercolour Forum Romanum (National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa), engraved by G. Hollis and J. Mitan for James Hakewill’s Picturesque Tour of Italy, published 1818 (see Tate T03017), 3 and based upon a drawing by Hakewill, The Forum Romanum 1816–17 (private collection).4
See Luigi Ficacci, Piranesi: The Complete Etchings, Köln and London 2000, no.886, p.693, reproduced.
John Chetwode Eustace, A Classical Tour Through Italy, London 1815, 3rd edition, vol.I, p.374.
Andrew Wilton, The Life and Work of J.M.W. Turner, Fribourg 1979, no.705; W[illiam] G[eorge] Rawlinson, The Engraved Work of J.M.W. Turner, R.A., London 1908, vol.I, no.149.
Reproduced in Cecilia Powell, ‘Topography, Imagination and Travel: Turner’s Relationship with James Hakewill’ in Art History, vol5, no.4, December 1982, p., fig.32.
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, nos.233 and 379.