Joseph Mallord William Turner

The Roman Forum, Looking South, with the Arch of Septimius Severus and the Column of Phocas


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite and watercolour on paper
Support: 130 x 255 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CXC 13 a

Catalogue entry

Turner made numerous studies of the ancient ruins of the Roman Forum. The subject of this sketch is the view looking south from the area of high ground above the Forum, near to the Mamertine prison. Identifiable landmarks include, from left to right: the Church of Santi Luca e Martina; the Arch of Septimius Severus; the bell-tower of Santa Francesca Romana; the Arch of Titus; the Column of Phocas; and on the far right-hand side, part of the Temple of Saturn. Like many drawings within this sketchbook, the composition has been executed over a washed grey background
At the time of Turner’s first visit to Rome, many of the structures in the Forum had only been recently been uncovered. The excavation of the Arch of Septimius Severus, for example, had only commenced in the early nineteenth century and many of the 1819 sketches appear to show the monument still partially embedded, see the Albano, Nemi, Rome sketchbook (Tate D15356, D15405 and D15422; Turner Bequest CLXXXII 33, 57 and 65a), and the St Peter’s sketchbook (Tate D16201; Turner Bequest CLXXXVIII 24). However, the fact that Turner was able to make detailed studies of the bas-relief panels on the column bases reveals that the eastern façade at least was fully uncovered, despite the high bank of earth surrounding it.

Nicola Moorby
May 2009

Read full Catalogue entry

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