View this artwork by appointment, at Tate Britain's Prints and Drawings Rooms
Turner’s exploration of Tivoli included a large number of landscape sketches drawn from the river valley to the north. He was particularly attracted by the spectacle of the town’s ancient ruins perched above the steep, wooded gorge and streaming waterfalls. As Thomas Ashby first identified, this drawing depicts a view from the ruins of the Villa of Quintilius Varus, adjacent to the Santuario di Quintiliolo (Church of the Madonna of Quintiliolo) situated on the northern slopes of the valley.1 Remnants of the foundations as well as broken fragments of masonry can be seen amidst the trees within the foreground. The vista looks south-east towards the opposite side of ravine and the ruins of the Santuario di Ercole Vincitore (Sanctuary of Hercules Victor), a large temple complex dating from the first century BC, formerly known as the Villa of Maecenas. Visible to the right of the Santuario is the so-called Tempio della Tosse (Temple of the Cough), an ancient circular ruin believed to be the vestibule of a Roman villa. Like many drawings within this sketchbook, the composition has been executed over a washed grey background. Turner has created highlights within the work by rubbing or lifting out the wash to reveal the white paper beneath, principally to delineate the trees, the temple, and the silvery streams of the falling cascatelli (or cascatelle), the lesser cascades emerging beneath. He has further enhanced the dramatic chiaroscuro by darkening area of deep shadow with vigorous shading and hatched lines.
The Santuario di Ercole Vincitore was one of Tivoli’s most famous landmarks and its picturesque qualities had made it a popular subject for artists. Revd John Chetwode Eustace in A Classical Tour Through Italy, first published in 1813, recommended the view from the opposite side of the valley where ‘the towers of the town rising on the top of the hill beyond the cascade, with the ruins of Maecenas’s villa on its shelving side, form one of the most delicious pictures for softness and beauty, wildness and animation, that can be imagined.’2 He described the temple as Turner would have seen it: