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As Thomas Ashby first identified, Turner’s location for this view of Rome was the Villa Barberini (also known as the Villa Barberini al Gianicolo), a small Baroque casino situated north of the Janiculum Hill, to the immediate south of St Peter’s and the Vatican. Originally owned by Taddeo Barberini, nephew of Pope Urban VIII, the building was largely destroyed during the siege of Rome in 1849,1 but its appearance is partially recorded in an eighteenth-century engraving by Giuseppe Vasi (1710–1782).2 Two small pavilions, the Casino della Palma, and the Palazetto Vercelli survived and are today part of a larger complex owned by the Jesuits and the Collegio di Propoganda Fide.
During the nineteenth century, the Villa Barberini was set within terraced gardens which offered spectacular views across the city. This sketch depicts the prospect looking north towards the Castel Sant’Angelo with the bell-tower of the Church of Santo Spirito in Sassia in the immediate foreground. On the right is the River Tiber and the Ponte Sant’Angelo, and on the left, the northern outskirts of the city, known as the Prati di Castello, with Monte Mario on the far side, and Monte Soracte in the distance beyond. Several other panoramic studies from the Villa Barberini can be found within this sketchbook (see D16327, D16333, D16347, D16358, D16361, D16374; Turner Bequest CLXXXIX 1, 7, 21, 32, 34, 45a) and there is also a single related sketch in the Albano, Nemi, Rome sketchbook (see Tate D15368; Turner Bequest CLXXXII 39).
Like many drawings within the Rome C. Studies sketchbook, the composition has been executed over a washed grey background. Turner first sketched a rough pencil outline before more fully developing the view in watercolour and gouache. He also created highlights by rubbing or scratching through to the white paper beneath. The use of blue for the distant mountains beyond recalls the effects of aerial perspective which characterise the paintings of the seventeenth-century master Claude Lorrain (circa 1600–1682).