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In common with many eighteenth- and nineteenth-century visitors to Rome, part of Turner’s exploration of the city included the panoramic views seen from certain elevated vantage points. One of the most famous of these was the Janiculum Hill (or Gianicolo), a ridge of high ground to the west of the River Tiber which offered sweeping vistas across the historical centre of the capital. The most famous vantage points were from San Pietro in Montorio, the Villa Lante, or the oak of Torquato Tasso, and Turner made sketches from all of these spots (see Tate D16328, D16338, D16378; Turner Bequest 2, 12, 49). His choice of viewpoint for this coloured study, however, is more unusual, and depicts the view looking east from near to the Porta San Pancrazio. There are three key structures dominating the forground: on the far right is the Church of San Pietro in Montorio; in the centre is the back of the Fontana dell’Acqua Paola (Pauline Fountain); and the building on the far left is the Villa Aurelia, a seventeenth-century residence built for Cardinal Girolamo Farnese (also known as the Casino del Giardino Farnese sul Monte Gianicolo, now part of the American Academy in Rome).1 During the French invasion of Rome in the mid-nineteenth century the house was used as the headquarters of General Garibaldi and suffered considerable damage from bombardment. Although the façade of the villa was restored, the roof was rebuilt in a different style from that depicted by Turner. It can be seen, however, in an eighteenth-century topographical print by Giuseppe Vasi,2 and in the background of an engraving of the Fontana dell’Acqua Paola by Giovanni Battista Piranesi.3 A related and similar view can be found on the verso of this sheet (D40049). Unlike Turner’s other drawings of views from the Janiculum Hill there does not appear to be an artistic precedent for this unorthodox choice of composition.
Like many pages within this sketchbook, the sketch has been executed over a washed grey background. Turner first drew the outline in pencil before partially working up the view with loose washes of watercolour. He has also used a small amount of white gouache to describe the distant snow-topped mountains. It is not known why the artist chose to add a general sense of local colour without achieving a more significant level of finished detail.
See Luigi Ficacci, Piranesi: The Complete Etchings, Köln and London 2000, no.912, reproduced p.708.
Andrew Wilton, The Life and Work of J.M.W. Turner, Fribourg 1979, no.720, as ‘Rome, from the Pincian Hill’. First identified with correct title by David Hill in Turner in Yorkshire, exhibition catalogue, York City Art Gallery, York 1980, no.97, p.64. Reproduced in colour in The Courtauld Collection, exhibition catalogue, Wordsworth Trust, Grasmere 2008, no.16.