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As John Ruskin first correctly 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 of the easterly prospect depicts the River Tiber at a point where it curves in front of St Peter’s. The viewer, therefore, looks simultaneously upstream (or left) towards the Ponte Sant’Angelo and downstream (right) towards the Ponte Sisto. Turner has carefully recorded 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, with the Castel Sant’Angelo beyond, whilst in the immediate foreground is the bell-tower of the Church of Santo Spirito in Sassia. Rising above the banks of the river in the centre of the composition is San Giovanni dei Fiorentini with the Capitoline Hill beyond, and on the far right-hand side is the Aventine Hill and the Janiculum with the Church of San Pietro in Montorio. Further views from the Villa Barberini can be found on folios 32 and 45 verso (D16358 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 related sketch within the Albano, Nemi, Rome sketchbook (see Tate D15368; Turner Bequest CLXXXII 39).
Like many studies within the Rome C. Studies sketchbook, this composition has been executed over a washed grey background and the artist has created areas of pale highlights within the sky and landscape by rubbing through to the white paper beneath. John Ruskin described it as ‘consummate as a piece of fine drawing’ which ‘cannot be too carefully studied or too frequently copied’.3 Unusually however, there is no evidence of pencil work and Turner appears to have delineated the view directly in pen and ink before further developing the line of the horizon with tonal watercolour and gouache. 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). Cecilia Powell has suggested that Turner may have referred to the colouring of this sketch when completing the background of his large oil painting, Rome from the Vatican exhibited 1820 (Tate, N00503).4
Anthony Blunt, Guide to Baroque Rome, London, Toronto, Sydney and New York 1982, p.210.
Cook and Wedderburn (eds.), vol.XIII, p.298.
Powell 1987, pp.115–16; Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, no.228.
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.