As Cecilia Powell first identified, the subject of this sketch is Lake Avernus, a volcanic crater lake near Pozzuoli, which is represented in classical mythology as the entrance to the underworld.1 The composition, which spills over onto the opposite sheet of the double-page spread, see folio 72 (D15697; Turner Bequest CLXXXIV 70), depicts the view looking south from a point above the lake near present-day Via Montenuovo Licola Patria. The ruin on the eastern shore to the left is a Roman thermal bath hall known as the so-called Temple of Apollo, whilst visible in the bay beyond are the castle of Baiae and the promontory of Cape Misenum (present-day Capo Miseno).
This view was a popular one with artists and was well known to Turner through the work of landscapists such as Richard Wilson (1713–1782).2 He had already painted two oil compositions of the vista prior to seeing it for himself: Aeneas and the Sibyl, Lake Avernus circa 1798 (Tate N00463); and Lake Avernus: Aeneas and the Cumaean Sibyl circa 1814–15 (Yale Center for British Art),3 both of which are based upon a drawing by Sir Richard Colt Hoare (1758–1838), who also commissioned and owned the latter picture.4 A related pencil study can be found in the Turner Bequest (Tate D02381; Turner Bequest LI N). Lake Avernus is also the setting for a later oil painting, The Golden Bough exhibited 1834 (Tate N00371).5
Despite his familiarity with Lake Avernus, Turner made several on-the-spot sketches which are scattered throughout the Gandolfo to Naples sketchbook, see folios 19 verso, 27 verso, 34 verso–35, 71 and 72, 77–76 (D15592, D15608, D15622–D15623, D15695, D15697, D15707–D15709; Turner Bequest CLXXXIV 19a, 26a, 33a–34, 69, 70, 75–76).
Powell 1984, p.424.
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, nos.34 and 226.
See John Gage, ‘Turner and Stourhead: The Making of a Classicist?’, Art Quarterly, vol.37, Spring 1974, fig.10, p.69.
Butlin and Joll 1984, no.355.