William Chubb has described this sketch as a view looking down on Frascati from the upper slopes of the hill with the piano nobile of the Villa Falconieri in the right-hand foreground. He goes on:
The steps on the draughtsman’s side of the Villa are possibly those that surround the laghetto at the Villa Falconieri, in which case the structure beyond them and to their left may be the east elevation of the main block of the Villa Rufinella. Beyond the Villa Falconieri Turner has left a blank space where the town of Frascati should be.1
In fact, a drawing from a similar viewpoint on another page, see folio 28 verso (D15348) confirms that the location is the Villa Rufinella, also known as the Villa Tuscolana. This building, the highest of the villas on the hill above Frascati, was popularly believed to have been erected on the ruins of Cicero’s summer house in Tusculum. Local guides, styling themselves ‘Cicerone’, eagerly pointed out to tourists those locations which were believed to be connected with the great orator, as experienced by Charlotte Eaton the year before Turner:
The laurel flourishes at the Ruffinella, formerly the country house of the Jesuits, now Lucien Buonaparte’s, and, in the opinion of many, once the site of Cicero’s Tusculan villa ... We may therefore, perhaps, indulge the belief that we really stand upon the site of the Villa of Cicero ... This hypothesis, at all events, pleased our guides the best, and they pointed out to us some ruins above the Ruffinella, consisting of a sort of portico, with two ranges of arches; and assured us, these were the real identical ruins of Cicero’s upper villa ...’2
Chubb has argued that this drawing provided the basis for Turner’s later oil painting, Cicero at his Villa exhibited 1839 (B&J 381, private collection), although the painted composition also contains a number of imaginary architectural and topographical details.3 The artist revisited his 1819 sketches of Frascati and recreated and adapted a vista which he imagined Cicero might have seen.