View this artwork by appointment, at Tate Britain's Prints and Drawings Rooms
The most famous landmark in Spoleto is the Ponte delle Torri (Bridge of Towers), a medieval aqueduct spanning the deep valley to the south-east of the town. Designed by Matteo Gattapone of Gubbio, the bridge was built during the thirteenth century and is 230 metres long and 80 metres high. Originally conceived as an aqueduct to transport water from Monte Luco on the right to the town on the left, it also provided an escape route from the adjacent Rocca Albornoziana when Spoleto was under siege.1 Its name derives from the two guard towers on either side of the crossing. The impressive scale of the architecture combined with the dramatic scenery of the surrounding terrain made the bridge and the castle an obvious picturesque subject for artists. This sketch shows the structure from the valley to the north-east with the Torre dei Mulini on the left.
In 1966, Giovanni Carandente identified the bridge as the subject of a late oil painting, The Ponte delle Torri, Spoleto, (formerly Bridge and Tower) circa 1840–50 (Tate, N02424).2 The picture is a reworking of the Claudian composition of a Liber Studiorum subject, Bridge and Goats, published 1812 (see Tate D08147; Turner Bequest CXVII S).3 The artist apparently revisited the earlier imaginary composition, developing it with reference to his sketches and memories of Spoleto in 1819, particularly folio 41.4 Butlin and Joll described the work as an interesting example of Turner’s method, putting to good use material gathered at least twenty-five years earlier.5 Cecilia Powell, meanwhile, has suggested that Turner may have been inspired to re-visit his impressions of the town by another artist’s rendition, View of Spoleto, a work by Edward Bradley exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1831, the first time that Spoleto appears to have been the subject of a painting, rather than a topographical engraving.6
On the far right-hand side of the page is a small part of a sketch of Spoleto which has spilled over from the opposite sheet, see folio 40 verso (D14731).
Ros Belford, Martin Dunford, Celia Woolfrey et al, Rough Guide to Italy, New York, London and Delhi 2007, 8th edition, p.665.
Kenneth Garlick, La pittura inglese da Hogarth a Turner (1730–1850), exhibition catalogue, Palazzo Venezia, Rome 1966, no.59; Butlin and Joll 1984, no.518.
Eric Shanes, ‘The True Subject of a Major Painting by Turner Identified’, Burlington Magazine, vol.CXXVI, no.974, May 1984, p.287 note 5.
Carandente 1968, p.20.
Butlin and Joll 1984, p.304.
Powell 1984, pp. 101, 469 note 142.