The Palatine Hill was one of the most popular vantage points in Rome and Turner made a large number of studies recording views of the city seen in all directions. This coloured sketch depicts the panoramic prospect seen from the eastern side, near the Domus Augustana, looking towards the Caelian Hill. The central focus of the picture is the rounded apse and bell-tower of the Church of San Giovanni e Paolo, whilst to the right are surviving fragments of the Claudian Aqueduct and the Basilica of San Giovanni in Laterano. On the left is part of the ruins of the Palatine and in the background, the apse of Santi Quatro Coronati. As Turner was probably well aware, the vista was a favourite motif for topographical artists.1 Similar related views can be found on other pages within this sketchbooks (see D16345, D16371, D16384; CLXXXIX 19, 43a, 54a). Another view of San Giovanni e Paolo seen from a more southerly location also appears in the bottom right-hand corner of another sheet (see D16348; Turner Bequest CLXXXIX 22). The large number of versions of the subject suggest that he was seriously considering its suitability for a finished picture in oil or watercolour.
Like many pages within this sketchbook, the composition has been executed over a washed grey background. Turner first drew the outline in pencil before extensively working up the view with watercolour. He varied his application of paint considerably across the work, utilising both wet and dry pigment. The buildings and the mountains, for example, have been described carefully with tonal modulations, whilst for the textured foliage in the foreground the brushwork is looser, freerer and more energetic. Highlights were created with small touches of white gouache, particularly effective for the distant snow-topped mountains and the large marble statues along the top of the façade of San Giovanni in Laterano. Turner has also used gouache within the sky where he has achieved a subtle herringbone effect by washing a thin, liquid layer of blue swiftly across the grey sheet and lifting the wet paint to create a sense of pattern and movement.
See for example Francis Towne, SS Giovanni e Paolo, Rome 1780 (British Museum, London), reproduced in Wilton and Lyles 1993, p.83, fig.21, and Francois-Marius Granet, Basilica of Santi Giovanni e Paolo, Rome (Musée Granet, Aix-en-Provence), reproduced in Anna Ottani Cavina, Un Paese Incantato: Italia Dipinta da Thomas Jones a Corot, exhibition catalogue, Galeries nationales du Grand Palais, Parigi and Palazzo Te, Mantova, Italy 2001, under no.92, p.143.