Like many foreign visitors to Rome, part of Turner’s exploration of the city included the panoramic views seen from certain elevated vantage points outside of the historic centre. The most famous of these were the Janiculum Hill (see D16328; Turner Bequest CLXXXIX 2) and Monte Mario (see D16357; Turner Bequest CLXXXIX 31), but another popular location was the Pincian Hill in the north-east of Rome. From the beginning of the nineteenth century, the area was developed by the architect, Giuseppe Valadier (1762–1839), who terraced the slopes leading up from Piazza del Popolo and landscaped the gardens between the Villa Medici and the Villa Borghese park. This sketch depicts the view from a point just below the terrace in Piazzale Napoleone I, looking south across the Piazza del Popolo. As the northern entry point to Rome, the Piazza del Popolo was a significant location for British visitors during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries as it marked their official arrival in the city.
Turner’s drawing demonstrates that in 1819 Valadier’s transformation of the square had not yet been completed.1 A semi-circular design is in evidence beneath the Pincio but the opposite side has yet to be remodelled. The main focus of the composition is the two churches on the southern side of the square with very similar Baroque facades: on the left, Santa Maria di Montesanto; and on the right, Santa Maria dei Miracoli. The churches flank the entrance to the Via del Corso, the main street which runs in a straight line to the heart of the city. Thomas Ashby identified the building in the left-hand foreground as the Palazzo Lucernari, a building designed by Valadier which stood on the Via del Babuino and was later reconstructed as the Hôtel des Iles Britanniques (the present-day Hôtel de Russie).2 In the background meanwhile can be seen a multitude of bell-towers and domes, including the prominent basilica Church of San Carlo al Corso. Related studies of the vista across Piazza del Popolo can be found within this sketchbook (see D16343; Turner Bequest CLXXXIX 17) and in the Small Roman C. Studies sketchbook (Tate D16406; Turner Bequest CXC 10). See also other sketches of the view from the Pincian Hill looking south-east towards Trinità dei Monti and the Spanish Steps (D16340; Turner Bequest CLXXXIX 14).