Joseph Mallord William Turner

Distant View of Rome, from the Road to the North


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 110 x 186 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CLXXVII 85 a

Catalogue entry

Although Turner’s travels through Italy had already taken him through much beautiful and interesting scenery in the northern lakes, Venice and Umbria, the principal objective of his tour was Rome and his anticipation must have been mounting on the final leg of his journey between Ancona and the Eternal City, the unrelenting stretch of road through the Campagna from Nepi. His excitement may be gauged by this sketch and its accompanying inscription recording his ‘Primero’ (first) view of Rome, a momentous moment for the forty-four-year-old artist. The drawing, which is inverted on the page, depicts the distant dome of St. Peter’s just visible on the horizon with the line of the Alban Hills beyond. Charlotte Anne Eaton, who published her reminiscences and letters from her travels in Rome in 1819, described her own first view of the city in Rome from the Nineteenth Century, published 1820:
Our longing eyes were intently fixed on the spot where we were told that it would first appear; when at length, the carriage having toiled up to the top of a long hill, the vetturino exclaimed, “Eccola!”. The dome of St. Peter’s appeared in view; and springing out of the carriage, and up a bank by the roadside, we beheld from its summit, Rome! It stood in the midst of the wide waste of the Campagna, whose brown landscape was glistening in the silvery dews of morning. In the hollow below us, a ruined Gothic tower, shaded by some straggling trees, formed a fine foreground to the view of the distant city. Its indistinct buildings formed a sort of long irregular line, in which the lofty dome of St. Peter’s, and the Castle of St. Angelo, once the proud Mausoleum of Hadrian, were alone prominent. Shall I venture to confess to you, that it was with eyes dimmed with tears that I gazed for the first time on Rome? I saw before me the great, the ancient, the eternal city.1
As recorded by Turner in his notes from John Chetwode Eustace’s A Classical Tour Through Italy (see Tate D13940; Turner Bequest CLXXII 5), a traveller’s first view of Rome was traditionally experienced on the heights above Baccano, approximately fifteen miles north of the city.2 However, the inscribed place name, ‘Tower de Cassio’, seems to indicate that Turner was somewhat further south, near the Torre del Cornacchie (Tower of Crows) or the Torre di Spizzichino, medieval towers on the Via Cassia, between La Storta and La Giustiniana. One of the towers is visible on the opposite sheet of the double-page spread, see folio 86 (D14821).

Nicola Moorby
November 2008

Charlotte Anne Easton, Rome in the Nineteenth Century: Containing a Complete Account of the Ruins of the Ancient City, the Remains of the Middle Ages and the Monuments of Modern Times, Edinburgh 1820, pp.95–6.
John Chetwode Eustace, A Classical Tour through Italy, vol.1, London 1815, p.341.

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