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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner The Forum, Rome, with the Temples of Saturn and Vespasian 1819

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Folio 32 Recto:
The Forum, Rome, with the Temples of Saturn and Vespasian 1819
Turner Bequest CLXXXII 32
Pencil on white wove paper, 113 x 189 mm
Inscribed by the artist in pencil ‘X [...]’ bottom left and ‘x’ in centre underneath columns and ‘8’ on second (right-hand) column in centre. Also ‘ESTIVER’ on entablature of Temple of Vespasian and ‘Bells of [?drag ...] | part of Cap’ to the right
Inscribed by John Ruskin in blue ink ‘32’ top right and ‘301’ bottom right
Stamped in black ‘CLXXXII 32’ bottom right
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
The Forum is an area of ruined temples, monuments and basilicas in the centre of Rome which represented the heart of political, commercial and judicial life in the ancient city. Over the centuries the Forum had been allowed to decay and, as depicted by Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720–1778) in his famous engraving Veduta di Campo Vaccino from the Veduta di Roma, the grand structures were left to become buried beneath rubble.1 Meanwhile, the area became known as the ‘Campo Vaccino’ (Field of Cattle), a ‘contemptible appellation’ according to Reverend John Chetwode Eustace, which degraded the former memory of imperial power and glory, but which reflected the modern usage of the site as a market for livestock.2 By the nineteenth century, excavations had begun in earnest on the site and the broken fragments of Roman architecture had begun to re-emerge. During his 1819 sojourn in Rome, Turner made numerous sketches of the Forum in several different sketchbooks.
The subject of this sketch is the north-west end of the Roman Forum looking towards the eight surviving columns of the Temple of Saturn, a fourth-century reconstruction of an older temple dedicated to the mythical god-king of Italy. To the right of this is another set of ruins, the first century Temple of Vespasian, built by the Emperor’s son Domitian in 86 AD, of which three columns remain. Turner’s transcription of the Latin inscription on the entablature of the latter is slightly inaccurate; it should read ‘ESTITVER’. The backdrop to the ruins is the rear façade and bell-tower of the Palazzo Senatorio, which as Turner indicates belongs to the ‘Cap[itoline]’ hill. Formerly the home of the Senate, the building is now the headquarters of the city council and mayor, and the repository of the Tabularium, or State archives. Turner had already painted a similar but broader viewpoint in his watercolour Forum Romanum (National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa), engraved by G. Hollis and J. Mitan for James Hakewill’s Picturesque Tour of Italy, published 1818 (see Tate T03017), 3 and based upon a drawing by Hakewill, The Forum Romanum 1816–17 (private collection).4
Other views of the Forum can be found on folios 33–34 verso (D15356–D15359), 35 verso (D15361), 50 verso (D15390), 52 verso-54 (D15394–D15397), 58–59 (D15405–D15407), 66 verso-67 (D15422–D15423) and 68 verso (D15426). See also the St Peter’s sketchbook (Tate; Turner Bequest CLXXXVIII), Rome: Colour Studies sketchbook (Tate; Turner Bequest CLXXXIX) and Small Roman Colour Studies sketchbook (Tate; Turner Bequest CXC). These studies record the various monuments and the surrounding contemporary buildings of the site from multiple angles and this thorough visual exploration later informed two major oil paintings, Forum Romanum, for Mr Soane’s Museum exhibited 1826 (Tate, N00504) and Modern Rome – Campo Vaccino exhibited 1839 (private collection, on loan to National Gallery of Scotland).5 Turner must also have referred to them during preparation for his watercolour illustration, The Forum circa 1827, for Rogers’s Italy, (Tate D27675; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 158).
On the far left of the page is the continuation of the sketch from the opposite side of the double-page spread, a view of Frascati from the terrace of the Villa Aldobrandini (see D15354, CLXXXII 32a). This appears to show the edge of an architectural feature including a column or pilaster and is possibly the side of the villa itself.
See Luigi Ficacci, Piranesi: The Complete Etchings, Köln and London 2000, no.886, p.693, reproduced.
John Chetwode Eustace, A Classical Tour Through Italy, London 1815, 3rd edition, vol.I, p.374.
Andrew Wilton, The Life and Work of J.M.W. Turner, Fribourg 1979, no.705; W[illiam] G[eorge] Rawlinson, The Engraved Work of J.M.W. Turner, R.A., London 1908, vol.I, no.149.
Reproduced in Cecilia Powell, ‘Topography, Imagination and Travel: Turner’s Relationship with James Hakewill’ in Art History, vol5, no.4, December 1982, p.[418], fig.32.
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, nos.233 and 379.

Nicola Moorby
May 2008

How to cite

Nicola Moorby, ‘The Forum, Rome, with the Temples of Saturn and Vespasian 1819 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, May 2008, in David Blayney Brown (ed.), J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours, Tate Research Publication, December 2012, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/jmw-turner/joseph-mallord-william-turner-the-forum-rome-with-the-temples-of-saturn-and-vespasian-r1132650, accessed 19 January 2018.