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As Thomas Ashby first identified, this drawing represents a view of Tivoli from the foot of Monte Catillo to the east of the town.1 The vista looks west across the steep gorge known as the Valle d’Inferno (Valley of Hell), and the focal point of the composition is the so-called Temple of Vesta, an ancient circular edifice dating from the first century BC, which stands at the top of the ravine. Adjacent on the right is the so-called Temple of the Sibyl, a rectangular ruin which until the end of the nineteenth century was incorporated within the Church of San Giorgio, and immediately to the left is the Ponte San Rocco, a wooden bridge which spanned the precipitous drop near the former falling point of the ‘Grand Cascade’ of the River Aniene. After a devastating flood in 1826 the river was diverted in underground tunnels away from the residential district, altering the site of the waterfall. Ashby pinpointed Turner’s location as just above the twin tunnels where the river now issues forth to plunge into present-day Villa Gregoriana.2 He further described how the olive trees which once clothed the slopes had been replaced by a road and garden.3
Unlike the related view in watercolour (see Tate D16116; Turner Bequest CLXXXVII 28), or the tonal studies on grey watercolour wash elsewhere in this sketchbook, Turner’s focus here is the accurate mapping of Tivoli’s topography with little indication of naturalistic or atmospheric effects. John Ruskin described the quality of the Tivoli sketches from nature as ‘unsurpassable’.4
Long detached from the Naples, Rome C. Studies sketchbook, this sheet was perhaps once folio 30 (see the concordance in the introduction).
Blank, save for inscriptions by unknown hands in pencil ‘22’ centre and ‘CLXXXVII. 30’ bottom right; stamped in black ‘CLXXXVII 30’ and Turner Bequest monogram bottom left.