View this artwork by appointment, at Tate Britain's Prints and Drawings Rooms
This sketch depicts the Voie Sarde (Sardinian Way), an ancient Roman road which passed through a natural canyon, just east of the village of Les Échelles. The passage was renovated during the seventeenth century by Charles Emmanuel II, Duke of Savoy (1634–1675), and this view depicts a monument which commemorates the Duke’s involvement. To the left of the structure is an entrance to a cave. The route was made obsolete during the early nineteenth century when Napoleon ordered the construction of a tunnel through the mountains, thereby by-passing the steep terraces of the Voie Sarde, see folio 73 (D14112). However, it remained of interest to tourists and travellers through the area.
As Turner’s sketch shows, the monument to Charles Emmanuel II comprises a decorative stone wall built into the rock face with a Latin inscription at the top. According to contemporary guide books the structure exhibited:
numerous marks of musket balls, received in a severe contest upon this spot between some French republicans and Savoyards, in the early part of the French revolution; but a paper sold by an old soldier, a cantonnier [person employed to keep the road in order], who keeps a hovel, and sells eau-de-vie at the end of the new gallery [Napoleonic tunnel], furnishes not only all of the inscription, which the balls of the revolutionists have made deficient, but a bombastic translation, in French, for the edification and amusement of travellers.1
Brockendon’s Road Book from London to Naples, London 1835, p.59.