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A large number of studies from the Naples: Rome C. Studies sketchbook represent variant views of the Roman Campagna, the area of countryside encircling the outskirts of the Eternal City (Tate D16122–D16139; Turner Bequest CLXXXVII 34–51). This is one of six such compositions where Turner has developed the landscape in watercolour (see also Tate D16122–D16123, D16129, D16131, D16133; Turner Bequest CLXXXVII 34–35, 41, 43, 45). Thomas Ashby identified this view as looking east towards the distant Apennine mountains from a point outside the Porta San Lorenzo in the north-east of the city.1 The snowy heights visible in the centre are the triple peaks of the Monte Velino, one of the highest mountains in central Italy, approximately sixty miles from Rome, above Avezzano and the Fucine Lake.2 To the left is Monte Gennarro and to the far left is Monte Terminillo above Rieti.3 Just right of the gap below Monte Velino is a series of pale highlights denoting the position of Tivoli with the hills rising above Subiaco, whilst to the far right is the ‘rocky cock’s comb’ of Monte Guadagnolo.4 The foreground and middle distance is dominated by the empty plain of the Campagna, featureless except for a series of small white towers or ruins and the faintest indication of a meandering river. In one place a plume of white smoke seems to suggest some human presence in the otherwise deserted landscape.
Further studies of the Campagna dating from Turner’s 1819 Italian tour can be found in the St Peter’s sketchbook (see Tate D16217–D16226; Turner Bequest CLXXXVIII 35–40) and throughout the Small Roman C. Studies sketchbook (see Tate; Turner Bequest CXC). By the nineteenth century, exploration of the city’s environs had become as much part of the Roman experience as its architecture and monuments. Turner’s forays into the Campagna followed a long artistic tradition established during the seventeenth century by Claude Lorrain (circa 1600–1682) and Nicolas Poussin (1594–1665). The two French masters had famously made a number of sketching trips along the banks of the Tiber north of the city; indeed the countryside between the Porta del Popolo and the Ponte Molle had popularly become known as the ‘Promenade de Poussin’. Turner, in particular, admired the work of Claude Lorrain whose paintings such as The Roman Campagna circa 1639 (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) combined motifs studied on the spot with an idealised vision of landscape. Throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, artists in search of authentic Italian landscape continued to follow the precedent for drawing and painting the Campagna and during the 1820s a small European coterie began to focus on painting in the open air.5 Unlike earlier topographical artists who had focused their depiction of the Campagna on images of selected landmarks, nineteenth century en plein air painters such as Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot (1796–1875) and his contemporaries developed a new approach rooted in empirical observation. Working directly from nature they produced panoramic views of vast barren spaces, deserted except for distant hills and isolated ruins which served to emphasise the grand emptiness of the terrain.