Joseph Mallord William Turner

Basilica of Constantine, Rome


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite and watercolour on paper
Support: 230 × 367 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CLXXXIX 47

Catalogue entry

The remains of the fourth-century Basilica of Constantine and Maxentius stand at the eastern end of the Roman Forum. This vast building, sometimes erroneously called the Temple of Peace, was once used for business and judiciary affairs. The edifice was the largest in the Forum and this study captures a full view of the three surviving barrel vaults with their coffered ceilings, and a section of arcade from the eastern vestibule. Visible in front of the Basilica are piles of rubble and broken architectural fragments. Also within the foreground Turner has included several figures which helps to establish a sense of scale. Like many drawings within the Rome: C. Studies sketchbook, the composition has been executed over a washed grey background and Turner has created highlights within the building by rubbing through to the white paper beneath. His treatment of the Basilica of Constantine reflects his knowledge of the Italian vedute tradition, particularly the work of Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720–1778). This view recalls Piranesi’s eighteenth-century etching, Veduta degli avanzi del Tablino della Casa Aurea di Nerone, detti volgarmente il Tempio della Pace from the Vedute di Roma.1
The Basilica is the subject of a large number of drawings dating from Turner’s 1819 tour, see the Albano, Nemi, Rome sketchbook (Tate D15394; Turner Bequest CLXXXII 51a), the St Peter’s sketchbook (Tate D16262–D16266; Turner Bequest 58a–60a) and other studies within this sketchbook (D16346, D16356, D16365 and D16382; Turner Bequest CLXXXIX 20, 30, 38 and 53). It also dominates the right-hand side of Turner’s large oil painting, Forum Romanum, for Mr Soane’s Museum exhibited 1826 (Tate N00504).2
Luigi Ficacci, Piranesi: The Complete Etchings, Köln and London 2000, no.899, p.701, reproduced.
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, no.233.
?Blank (pasted to mount).

Nicola Moorby
October 2009

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