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The subject of this sketch is a view of Tivoli from the river valley to the north-east of the town. The view looks up the steep sides of the gorge to the famous temples of the Acropolis in the right-hand corner: on the left, the circular so-called Temple of Vesta; and on the right, the rectangular Temple of the Sibyl, which until the end of the nineteenth century was incorporated within the Church of San Giorgio. On the opposite side of the ravine is a jutting promontory with houses built right up to the edge (present-day Hotel Sirene), and in between the two sides, the former falling point the ‘Grand Cascade’ of the River Aniene. Turner’s viewpoint is from the floor of the Valle d’Inferno (Valley of Hell), the steep wooded gorge beneath the temples. Visible in the foreground is a cave known as the Grotto of Neptune. Related studies can be seen on folios 19 and 43 (D15485, and D15511), as well as in the Tivoli and Rome sketchbook (Tate D15074; Turner Bequest CLXXIX 77a), and in the Naples: Rome C. Studies sketchbook (Tate D16118 and D16146–D16147; Turner Bequest CLXXXVII 30 and 58–9). 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.
For over two hundred years, the vista of the ancient ruined temples seen above the gorge with the nearby cascades of the River Aniene had been one of the most frequently depicted prospects in Tivoli.1 Compare a contemporaneous drawing by James Hakewill (1778–1843), Temple of the Sibyl, Tivoli (British School at Rome Library).2 As Cecilia Powell has discussed, Turner later developed his sketches and memories of the site within a vignette illustration for Rogers’s Italy, published in 1830 (see Tate D27683; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 166).
See for example views by Gaspard Dughet, in Anne French, Gaspard Dughet, called Gaspar Poussin 1615–75, exhibition catalogue, Kenwood, London 1980, nos.20 and 23, reproduced, and Thomas Jones and Francis Towne, reproduced in Francis W. Hawcroft, Travels in Italy 1776–1782: Based on the Memoirs of Thomas Jones, exhibition catalogue, Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester 1988, nos.50 and 53.
Tony Cubberley and Luke Herrmann, Twilight of the Grand Tour: A Catalogue of the drawings by James Hakewill in the British School at Rome Library, Rome 1992, no.5.8, p.232, reproduced.