This sketch of a cow, probably seen on the road through the campagna north of Rome, appears to be the only drawing representing the leg of Turner’s journey between Nepi and his first view of the Eternal City, a stretch of over seventeen miles. The lack of topographical sketches is consistent with the desolate nature of the countryside, frequently described by travel writers during the nineteenth century. According to Octavian Blewitt’s A Handbook for Travellers in Central Italy 1850, the road after Nepi ‘loses its picturesque character and enters on bare volcanic country’ which lasts until the final stages of the route to Rome.1 John Chetwode Eustace, meanwhile provided a fuller record in A Classical Tour Through Italy, first published in 1813:
beyond Nepi, or rather beyond Monte Rosi the next stage, the Campagnà di Roma begins to expand its dreary solitudes; and naked hills, and swampy plains rise, and sink by turns, without presenting a single object worth attention. It must not, however, be supposed, that no vegetation decorates these dreary wilds. On the contrary, verdure but seldom interrupted, occasional corn fields, and numerous herds and flocks communicate some degree of animation to these regions otherwise so desolate: but descending from high mountains, the natural seat of barrenness, where, still we witnessed rural beauty and high cultivation, to a plain in the neighbourhood of a populous city, where we might naturally expect, the perfection of gardening and all the bustle of life, we were struck with the wide waste that spreads around, and wondered what might be the cause that deprived so extensive a tract of its inhabitants.2
The flat, arid appearance of the landscape would have been in marked contrast to the building excitement of the traveller as he approached his first sight of Rome from the heights above Baccano or beyond, see folio 85 verso (D14820).
As Ian Warrell has discussed, studies of cows appear frequently amongst Turner’s sketches, particularly within the earlier sketchbooks, reflecting his interest in pastoral landscape and the work of Claude Lorrain and Aelbert Cuyp.3
Octavian Blewitt, A Hand-book for Travellers in Central Italy; Including the Papal States, Rome and the Cities of Etruria, London 1850, p.285.
John Chetwode Eustace, A Classical Tour through Italy, vol.1, London 1815, p.340.
Ian Warrell, Blandine Chavanne and Michael Kitson, Turner et le Lorrain, exhibition catalogue, Musée des beaux-arts, Nancy 2002, no.8, pp.55 and 186.