Joseph Mallord William Turner

Fountain in the Piazza della Rotonda, Rome, with the Portico of the Pantheon Beyond


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 114 × 189 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CLXXXVIII 28

Catalogue entry

The Pantheon is the oldest surviving domed structure in Rome and one of the city’s most famous buildings. Once an ancient temple, it was later consecrated as a Christian church, an event which helped to ensure its preservation. It is also the site of some important tombs including those of the painters Annibale Carracci and Raphael. Turner has depicted the building from the front, with the famous coffered ceiling only just visible beyond the portico. The bell-tower s on either side of the pediment were erected by Bernini. They were commonly known by the derogatory name of the ‘le orrechie d’asino’ (ears of the ass) and were taken down during the late nineteenth century. Turner’s transcription of the Latin text running along the frieze of the portico is not quite accurate. It should read: ‘M.AGRIPPA.L.F.COS.TERTIVM. FECIT’ (Marcus Agrippa, son of Lucius, consul for the third time, made it). Cecilia Powell has noted that this is a composite view.1 Turner has drawn the roof of the Pantheon as visible on both sides of the façade. This is a visual impossibility and means he must have altered his viewpoint during the sketch. She also notes that Turner has sketched an outline of the composition faintly first before working over parts of the drawing with firmer lines.2
The foreground of the sketch is dominated by the fountain which stands near the Pantheon in the Piazza della Rotonda. The basin of the fountain was built in the sixteenth century by Giacomo della Porta but the structure was completed in 1711 when Pope Clement XI added an ancient Egyptian obelisk. At the top right-hand side of the page, Turner has transcribed the inscription commemorating this event from the fountain base into which the obelisk is set. However, Turner’s record of the text is not quite accurate and it ought to read ‘CLEMENS XI | PONT.MAX. | FONTIS ET FORI | ORNAMENTO | ANNO SAL | MDCCXI | PONTIF.XI’. His other annotation on this page, ‘Fish’ refers to the decorative sculptures of the fountain designed by Filippo Barigioni which include dolphins, shells, fish and large figurative masks spouting water.
Powell 1987, p.[42].
Powell 1987, p.48.

Nicola Moorby
September 2008

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