Joseph Mallord William Turner

Olive Trees near Tivoli, with a View of the Santuario di Ercole Vincitore


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 200 × 253 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CLXXXIII 8

Catalogue entry

Turner’s exploration of Tivoli included a large number of landscape sketches drawn from the river valley to the north. He was particularly attracted by the spectacle of the town’s ancient ruins perched above the steep, wooded gorge and streaming waterfalls. This drawing depicts an olive grove on the northern side of the valley, with a view of Tivoli on the opposite side. To the right is the Santuario di Ercole Vincitore (Sanctuary of Hercules Victor), a ruined Roman temple formerly known as the Villa of Maecenas, whilst on the left is the campanile of the Cathedral (Duomo) of San Lorenzo, and the substructures supporting the Piazza dell’Olmo (present-day Piazza Domenico Tani). Visible in the foreground are a number of figures, some of whom are pictured on their hands and knees, possibly gathering olives. Similar views can be seen on folios 7, 16, 21, 26, and 41a (D15473, D15482, D15487, D15493 and D15509), and in the Tivoli and Rome sketchbook (Tate D15033; Turner Bequest CLXXIX 57 verso). For a full description of the Santuario and further studies see folio 5 (D15471).
Like many drawings within this sketchbook, the composition has been executed over a washed grey background. Turner has created highlights within the work by rubbing or lifting out the wash to reveal the white paper beneath, principally to depict the trees, figures and buildings. He has further enhanced the dramatic chiaroscuro by darkening the foreground foliage with vigorous shading and hatched lines. Turner’s interest in the twisted, gnarled forms of the tree trunks clinging to the steep slopes, as well as the tonal study of light and shade, is reminiscent of watercolour landscapes by Francis Towne (1739–1816), for example, Rocks and Trees at Tivoli 1781 (Tate, T08552).1
See Timothy Wilcox, Francis Towne, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1997, no.25, pp.72–4, reproduced in colour.
Blank, except for traces of grey watercolour wash
Inscribed by ?John Ruskin in red ink ‘343’ bottom left, and by an unknown hand in pencil ‘77’ centre

Nicola Moorby
February 2010

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