View this artwork by appointment, at Tate Britain's Prints and Drawings Rooms
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 east (upstream) towards the Ponte and Castel Sant’Angelo. Turner has carefully delineated the architecture of the topography laid out before him. On the far left-hand side can be seen the roof and tower of the Ospedale (Hospital) of Santo Spirito, whilst partially visible in the immediate foreground is the bell-tower of the Church of Santo Spirito in Sassia. On the far right-hand side is part of the façade of the Casino of the Villa Barberini with the dome of San Giovanni dei Fiorentini rising beyond. Related sketches from the same viewpoint can be found on folios 34 and 45 verso (D16361 and D16374) and on other loose sheets formerly bound within this sketchbook (D16327, D16329, D16333, D16347; CLXXXIX 1, 3, 7 and 21). There is also a single sketch within the Albano, Nemi, Rome sketchbook (see Tate D15368; Turner Bequest CLXXXII 39). This choice of view was unusual, but not without precedent.3
Like many drawings within the Rome C. Studies sketchbook, the composition has been executed in pencil over a washed grey background and Turner has added a small amount of watercolour and gouache to partially colour the line of the horizon. The use of blue for the distant line of the mountains beyond recalls the atmospheric effects of aerial perspective which characterise the paintings of the seventeenth-century master, Claude Lorrain (circa 1600–1682). John Ruskin described the work as ‘exquisite beyond description, in the loveliness of the colour on the distant hills’ and recommended it as ‘perhaps the most instructive piece of practice for the students of colour which can be found among the sketches’.4 Unfortunately, in common with many of the sketches and watercolours chosen for display during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the page has suffered from overexposure to light and the paper has become irreversibly faded and discoloured. Peter Bower has suggested that this is probably down to the high content of indigo in the grey watercolour wash, rather than properties within the paper.5
Anthony Blunt, Guide to Baroque Rome, London, Toronto, Sydney and New York 1982, p.210.
See for example Ferdinand Becker (died 1825), The Campanile of Santo Spirito in Sassia, reproduced in Raymond Keaveney, Views of Rome from the Thomas Ashby Collection in the Vatican Library, exhibition catalogue, Smithsonian Institution, Washington 1988, no.6, p..
John Ruskin, ‘Catalogue of the Turner Sketches in the National Gallery’, London 1857, reproduced in Cook and Wedderburn (eds.), vol.XIII, p.298.
Peter Bower, Turner’s Papers: A Study of the Manufacture, Selection and Use of his Drawing Papers 1787–1820, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1990, p.120.