This sketch depicts the ‘Grand Cascade’ of Tivoli, the large waterfall created by the falling point of the River Aniene plunging into the gorge at a point near present-day Piazza Rivarola. Turner’s viewpoint is looking south from the parapet of the so-called Temple of Vesta, and just visible on the far left-hand side is part of the Ponte San Rocco, a wooden crossing near erected upon the foundations of a previous stone structure swept away in a flood in 1808. Alternative studies are on folios 66 verso and 76 verso (D15051 and D15070), whilst similar views including the bridge within the composition can be found on folios 2 verso, 3 and 89 verso (D14936, D14937 and D15096), and in the Tivoli sketchbook (Tate D15494; Turner Bequest CLXXXIII 27). It is no longer possible to find the same vantage point in present-day Tivoli. Another devastating flood in 1826 persuaded Pope Gregory XVI to divert the course of the river away from the residential district. Consequently, the town’s many falls, including the Grand Cascade, were replaced instead by the great waterfall in the Villa Gregoriana to the north-east of the town. Furthermore, the topography of the town was vastly altered and the wooden Ponte San Rocco was succeeded by the newly-built Ponte Gregoriano.
The picturesque properties of this prospect had made it a popular subject for artists, and by the early nineteenth century the vista had become a well-established topographical motif. Early examples include Gaspar van Wittel’s (1652/3–1736), View of Tivoli circa 1700 (Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore), which pictures an artist sketching the view from a point below the Temple of Vesta,1 and Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720–1778), Veduta della Cascata di Tivoli from the Vedute di Roma.2 Compare also a contemporaneous drawing by James Hakewill (1778–1843), Tivoli 1817 (British School at Rome Library).3 Prior to embarking on his 1819 tour of Italy, Turner had made a small pen-and-ink copy of a similar view by John ‘Warwick’ Smith, from Select Views in Italy, published in two volumes between 1792–9 (see Italian Guide Book sketchbook, Tate D13966; Turner Bequest CLXXII 19). Furthermore he would also have been familiar with the description of the view in Revd John Chetwode Eustace’s famous travel guide, A Classical Tour Through Italy (see Italian Guide Book sketchbook, Tate D13951; Turner Bequest CLXXII 11):
Reproduced at http://art.thewalters.org/viewwoa.aspx?id=11864, accessed December 2009.
Luigi Ficacci, Piranesi: The Complete Etchings, Köln and London 2000, no.946, reproduced p.727.
Tony Cubberley and Luke Herrmann, Twilight of the Grand Tour: A Catalogue of the drawings by James Hakewill in the British School at Rome Library, Rome 1992, no.5.7, pp.230–1, reproduced.
John Chetwode Eustace, A Classical Tour Through Italy, London 1815, 3rd edition, vol.II, pp.229–30.