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In common with many eighteenth- and nineteenth-century visitors to Rome, part of Turner’s exploration of the city included the panoramic views seen from certain elevated vantage points. One of the most famous of these was the Janiculum Hill (or Gianicolo), a ridge of high ground to the west of the River Tiber which offered sweeping vistas across the historical centre of the capital. The viewpoint for this study is the Villa Lante, a sixteenth-century summer-house designed by Giulio Romano (circa 1499–1546). The villa was famed for its view from the loggia: an epigram by the ancient poet, Valerius Martial, carved above a doorway in the loggia testifies to the fame of the prospect: ‘HINC TOTAM LICET AESTIMARE ROMAM’ [Here one can take the measure of all Rome].1 The most famous topographical image of this prospect was Giuseppe Vasi’s vast etching, Prospetto dell’alma città di Roma visto dal Monte Gianicolo, published in 1765.2 The composition of this drawing is extremely close to the right-hand side of Vasi’s panoramic print.
Turner appears to have been standing in the terraced gardens beneath the Villa looking east across the city and the southern tip of the Janiculum. In the middle distance to the immediate left is the rear façade and grounds of the Palazzo Corsini, whilst slightly above to the right is the Isola Tiberina (Tiber Island) with its two bridges linking the banks of the river. Identifiable landmarks along the line of the horizon include, from left to right: the two domes and obelisk of Santa Maria Maggiore, with the square tower of the Torre Milize in front; the Capitoline Hill with the façade of Santa Maria in Aracoeli and the tower of the Palazzo Senatorio; the Colosseum; San Giovanni in Laterano; the Palatine Hill with the vast substructures of the Palace of Septimius Severus; the Aventine Hill with the Alban Mountains beyond; and on the far right-hand side, the Church of San Pietro in Montorio and the Fontana dell’Acqua Paola on the Janiculum Hill. Like many of the drawings within this sketchbook the composition has been executed over a grey watercolour wash and Turner has created highlights by scratching or rubbing through to reveal the white paper beneath. Unfortunately, the page was chosen for display during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and has suffered from overexposure to light. The paper has become irreversibly faded and discoloured.
Quoted in James F. O’Gorman, ‘The Villa Lante in Rome; Some Drawings and Some Observations’, Burlington Magazine, vol.113, no.816, March 1971, p.133.
Reproduced in the endpapers of Raymond Keaveney, Views of Rome from the Thomas Ashby Collection in the Vatican Library, exhibition catalogue, Smithsonian Institution, Washington 1988, and on-line, see http://vasi
.uoregon, accessed July 2009. .edu /works_panorama .html
Andrew Wilton, The Life and Work of J.M.W. Turner, Fribourg 1979, no.720, as ‘Rome, from the Pincian Hill’. First identified with correct title by David Hill in Turner in Yorkshire, exhibition catalogue, York City Art Gallery, York 1980, no.97, p.64. Reproduced in colour in The Courtauld Collection, exhibition catalogue, Wordsworth Trust, Grasmere 2008, no.16.