This sketch depicts the countryside on the northern outskirts of Rome. Turner’s viewpoint is from the east with the plain of the River Tiber stretching out before him and the heights of Monte Mario beyond. The bridge visible on the right in the mid-distance is the ancient Ponte Molle, also known as the Ponte Milvio, famous as the site of the deciding battle between Emperors Constantine and Maxentius in 312 AD. It also carried the Via Flaminia across the Tiber into the city and hence was the main entry and exit point for British tourists during the nineteenth century. The tower guarding the entrance on the northern end (right) had been recently rebuilt in 1805 by Giuseppe Valadier (1762–1839), the same architect who was responsible for restoring the Arch of Titus in the Roman Forum.1
By the nineteenth century the Ponte Molle was an established artistic subject. The surrounding stretch of riverbank was known as the ‘Promenade de Poussin’, reflecting its association with the seventeenth-century French master, Nicolas Poussin (1594–1665) who famously sketched here during solitary, meditative walks out of the city from the Porta del Popolo.2 Turner’s interest may have stemmed from his admiration for Claude Lorrain (c.1600–82) and Richard Wilson (1713–1782), both of whom featured it as a motif within their work. Indeed, the view in this sketch is similar to that of an oil painting by Lorrain, Landscape near Rome, with a View of the Ponte Molle, 1645 (Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery). As a young man, Turner had made a number of watercolour copies of images of the bridge with his contemporary, Thomas Girtin for Dr Monro’s Album of Italian Views, 1794–6 (see Turner Bequest CCCLXXIII 30–32; Tate D36443–5) and he would also have seen James Hakewill’s drawing of the view from Monte Mario during his work on the watercolour illustrations for Hakewill’s Picturesque Tour of Italy in 1818.3 Consequently, the Ponte Molle features as a distant landmark in a large number of sketches within this book, see folios 9 verso, 10, 10 verso–11, 13 verso, 14, 37, 37 verso, 38, 39 verso and 40 verso (D16174, D16175, D16176, D16177–D16178, D16182, D16183, D16218, D16219, D16220, D16223 and D16225). He also made a number of more detailed studies of the bridge’s architecture and the surrounding area in the Naples: Rome C. Studies sketchbook (Tate D16123 and D16133; Turner Bequest CLXXXVII 35 and 45), the Rome: C. Studies sketchbook (Tate D16391; Turner Bequest CLXXXIX 60) and the Small Roman C. Studies sketchbook (Tate D16444, D16467, D16476, D16484 and D16485; Turner Bequest CXC 33a, 52, 59, 60, 67 and 68).
For a detailed sketch of the bridge prior to 1805 see William Marlow (1740–1813), Ponte Molle, pencil on paper, Tate T09173.
See Richard Verdi, ‘Poussin’s Life in Nineteenth-Century Pictures’, Burlington Magazine, vol.111, no.801, December 1969, p.742; and Peter Galassi, Corot in Italy: Open-Air Painting and the Classical-Landscape Tradition, New Haven and London 1991, pp.162–3.
Tony Cubberley and Luke Herrmann, Twilight of the Grand Tour: A catalogue of the drawings by James Hakewill inthe British School at Rome Library, Rome 1992, p.185. no.3.4, reproduced.