Joseph Mallord William Turner

Four Sketches of Ponte Nomentano, Rome


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 403 × 255 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CLXXXVII 39

Catalogue entry

A large number of studies from the Naples: Rome C. Studies sketchbook represent variant views of the Roman Campagna, the area of countryside encircling the outskirts of the Eternal City (Tate D16122–D16139; Turner Bequest CLXXXVII 34–51). The subject of the sketches on this page is Ponte Nomentano, an ancient bridge which spans the River Aniene approximately three miles north-east of the city walls, and approximately one mile upstream from the Ponte Salario. As Turner’s studies show, the bridge comprised one large central arch with smaller side arches, whilst the crossing was fortified by an eclectic medieval development of embattled towers and walls. He studied this unusual combination from a variety of angles. The two uppermost drawings record the western end of the bridge from increasingly close-up viewpoints. The sketch second from bottom appears to show a general view across the Campagna with the Sabine mountains beyond, whilst the sketch at the bottom depicts the bridge from the north, with a distant view of Rome. The dome of St Peter’s is just visible on the far horizon.
By the nineteenth century, exploration of the city’s environs had become as much part of the Roman experience as its architecture and monuments. Turner’s forays into the Campagna followed a long artistic tradition established during the seventeenth century by Claude Lorrain (circa 1600–1682) and Nicolas Poussin (1594–1665). The two French masters had famously made a number of sketching trips along the banks of the Tiber north of the city; indeed the countryside between the Porta del Popolo and the Ponte Molle had popularly become known as the ‘Promenade de Poussin’. The Ponte Nomentano was one of a number of landmarks which had become an established motif through the repertory of the ‘vedute’ tradition, see for example a drawing by Richard Wilson (Tate, T03026).1 Turner made a number of other sketches on folio 40 (D16128), on the inner front cover of the sketchbook (D41405), and on D40079 (the verso of D16129; CLXXXVII 41). See also the Small Roman C. Studies sketchbook (Tate D16465; Turner Bequest CXC 50).
Also Giuseppe Vasi, Ponte Nomentano 1754, reproduced at accessed March 2009. Also early nineteenth century views by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Johann Christoph Erhard and Carl Rottmann, reproduced in Peter Galassi, Corot in Italy: Open-Air Painting and the Classical-Landscape Tradition, New Haven and London 1991, pp.166–7; and Ernst Fries, reproduced in Philip Conisbee, Sarah Faunce and Jeremy Strick, In the Light of Italy: Corot and early Open-Air Painting, exhibition catalogue, National Gallery of Art, Washington 1996, no.82, p.215.

Nicola Moorby
March 2009

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