Joseph Mallord William Turner

Part of the Exterior Façade of the Colosseum, Rome, with the Arch of Constantine


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 189 × 113 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CLXXXII 53

Catalogue entry

The principal purpose of this sketch was for Turner to record the architectural orders present on part of the northern curve of the exterior façade of the Colosseum, Rome’s most iconic and celebrated ancient monument. The study clearly shows the ascending hierarchy of the half-columns flanking the arches on the first three storeys: Doric on the ground floor; Ionic on the second; and Corinthian on the third. The fourth level, or attic of the building, is divided into panels by Corinthian pilasters, with a rectangular window every second panel. To the right of the main sketch, Turner has made individual studies of the three types of capitals, as well as capturing the details of the architrave variously seen in profile. The artist made numerous studies of the Colosseum, repeatedly sketching it from a variety of angles and also exploring the interior.1 Furthermore, he captured a more emotive, atmospheric sense of the famous amphitheatre in a number of coloured and tonal studies. For a full list see the Rome. C. Studies sketchbook (Tate D16349; Turner Bequest CLXXXIX 23).
In the background to the right of the Colosseum is the outline of the Arch of Constantine, a triumphal monument built in the fourth century AD to celebrate the victory of the Emperor Constantine at the Battle of Milvian Bridge over his co-ruler Maxentius. For further sketches see the St Peter’s sketchbook (Tate D16190 and D16194–D16197; Turner Bequest CLXXXVIII 18 and 20–22 and Tate D17158; Turner Bequest CXCV a H), the Small Roman C. Studies sketchbook (Tate D16398; CXC 4) and the Rome: Colour Studies sketchbook (Tate D16355 and D16367; Turner Bequest CLXXXIX 29 and 40). There is also a small study at the top of the page which shows another set of ruins, probably those on the Palatine Hill beyond.

Nicola Moorby
May 2008

Moorby 2008, p.115.

Read full Catalogue entry

You might like

In the shop