J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours

Joseph Mallord William Turner Inside the Colosseum, Rome 1819

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Folio 33 Recto:
Inside the Colosseum, Rome 1819
D16451
Turner Bequest CXC 38
Pencil and grey watercolour wash on white wove paper, 130 x 255 mm
Inscribed by ?John Ruskin with traces of red ink top right and by an unknown hand in pencil ‘38’ bottom right
Stamped in black ‘CXC 38’ bottom right
 
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Arguably the most famous of all the surviving monuments of classical Rome is the Flavian Amphitheatre, a huge building universally known as the Colosseum, which stands at the eastern end of the Roman Forum between the Palatine and Esquiline Hills. Built 72–80 AD., the immense ruin was as popular with tourists during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries as it is today and its crumbling but impressive remains represented a constant source of inspiration for artists. Turner’s 1819 sketches demonstrate that he studied the Colosseum from a variety of viewpoints both inside and outside the celebrated structure.1 He had read John Chetwode Eustace’s book, A Classical Tour Through Italy, which stated that ‘Never did human art present to the eye a fabric so well calculated by its size and form, to surprise and delight’ (see the Italian Guide Book sketchbook, Tate D13943; Turner Bequest CLXXII 7).2 Eustace recommended viewing the building first from the north, and then the south before finally entering its ‘lofty arcades’ to consider the ‘vast mass of ruin ... insulated walls, immense stones suspended in the air, arches covered with weeds and shrubs, vaults opening upon other ruins ... in short, above, below, and around, one vast collection of magnificence and devastation, of grandeur and decay’.3 This sketch depicts a view of the interior seen from one of the upper corridors. Like many drawings within this sketchbook, the composition has been executed over a washed grey background. In the foreground, Turner has added a small group of figures admiring the monument which helps to create a sense of scale.
Further sketches of the interior of the Colosseum can be found on folio 14 verso and 18 (D16414 and D16420; Turner Bequest CXC 14a and 18), and within the Rome C. Studies sketchbook (Tate D16339, D16380 and D16389; Turner Bequest CLXXXIX 13, 51 and 58).
1
See Moorby 2008, p.115.
2
John Chetwode Eustace, A Classical Tour Through Italy, London 1815, 3rd edition, vol.I, pp.374–5.
3
Ibid., p.375.
Verso:
Blank except for traces of grey watercolour

Nicola Moorby
June 2009

How to cite

Nicola Moorby, ‘Inside the Colosseum, Rome 1819 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, June 2009, in David Blayney Brown (ed.), J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours, December 2012, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/jmw-turner/joseph-mallord-william-turner-inside-the-colosseum-rome-r1132540, accessed 18 December 2014.