Joseph Mallord William Turner

Tivoli, for Rogers’s ‘Italy’


View this artwork by appointment, at Tate Britain's Prints and Drawings Rooms

Gouache, graphite and watercolour on paper
Support: 242 x 299 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCLXXX 166

Catalogue entry

This vignette appears as the head-piece to the thirty-fifth section of Rogers’s Italy, entitled ‘The Fire-Fly’.1 It was engraved by John Pye (1782–1874), who was paid £35 each for his engravings after Tivoli and Paestum (see Tate D27665; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 148).2 The high price that Pye’s work commanded reflected his rank as one of the most important engravers of his day.3 Most of the other engravers of Italy vignettes were only paid 20 guineas.
Tivoli bears no direct relationship to the text with which it is paired, which is essentially an ode to the firefly:
There is an Insect, that, when Evening comes,
Small tho’ he be and scarce distinguishable,
Like Evening clad in soberest livery,
Unsheaths his wings and thro’ the woods and glades
Scatters a marvellous splendour. On he wheels,
Blazing by fits as from excess of joy,
Each gush of light a gush of ecstasy;
Nor unaccompanied; thousands that fling
A radiance all their own, not of the day,
Thousands as bright as he, from dusk till dawn,
Soaring, descending.
(Italy, pp.166–7)
Although Tivoli cannot be linked clearly to the content of these verses, the calm, peaceful tone of the scene provides a fine complement to Rogers’s text. Turner here presents a view of the landscape and waterfall with the circular so-called Temple of Vesta (also known as the Temple of the Tiburtine Sibyl) in Tivoli. In the lower right-hand corner, he has included a stone inscribed with the word ‘Vesta’, a reference to the aforementioned temple. Jan Piggott suggests that the name may also allude to the sacred fire which burned eternally in the Temple of Vesta in the Roman Forum.4 Extinction of the flame was believed to portend general disaster for Rome. Turner produced a preliminary study of another Tivoli subject, the Villa of Maecenas with the Campagna in the distance (see Tate D27605; CCLXXX 88). However, this view was rejected in favour of the more conventional composition seen here.
As a young man, Turner had collaborated with Thomas Girtin on several views of Tivoli, including one view of the Temple of the Sibyl that bears some similarities to this later vignette (see Tate D36535; Turner Bequest CCCLXXV 14). He also produced many sketches of the temple during his 1819 visit to Italy, some of which may have served as models for this composition (see Tate D15074, D15076; Turner Bequest CLXXIX 77a, 78a; Tate D15468, D15484, D15511, D15512; Turner Bequest CLXXXIII 2, 18, 43, 44). However, perhaps the closest resemblance can be found in his thumbnail sketch of the view of Tivoli by John ‘Warwick’ Smith that Turner copied from Select Views in Italy, 1792–6 prior to his first Italian tour (see Tate D13966, Turner Bequest CLXXII 19).
Samuel Rogers, Italy, London 1830, p.166.
W.G. Rawlinson, The Engraved Work of J.M.W. Turner, R.A., vol.II, London 1913, no.365. There are two impressions in Tate’s collection (T04657 and T04658).
Piggott 1993, p.28.
Ibid., p.37.
Powell 1983, p.10.

Meredith Gamer
August 2006

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