Turner’s viewpoint for this drawing is the bottom of two famous flights of steps in Rome: on the left the Aracoeli Staircase, leading up towards the Church of Santa Maria in Aracoeli; and in the centre, the Cordonata, the wide ramp designed by Michelangelo to link the Piazza Venezia to the Piazza del Campidoglio. Where the two staircases meet at the bottom, Turner has drawn one of the two Egyptian lions which flank the entrance to the Cordonata, whilst at the top, he has depicted the Dioscuri, a pair of classical male nudes each holding a horse which represent the twin sons of Jupiter, Castor and Pollux. As Finberg identified, in the centre of the sketch is the façade of the Palazzo Senatorio (Senatorial Palace) outlined with Turner’s typical economy including architectural details on one half of the building only. The artist does, however, include the ancient bronze equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius placed in the centre of the piazza by Michelangelo.1 Cecilia Powell has argued that certain elements about the sketch indicate that Turner must have executed the study from several different places.2 The rooflines of the palaces appear more continuous than they really are whilst the area seems less congested. The houses visible to the left of Santa Maria in Aracoeli were demolished at the end of the nineteenth or beginning of the twentieth century in order to make way for the building of ‘Il Vittoriano’, the large monument to Vittorio Emanuele II (1820–1878), the first King of a united Italy.
This view is one of a number of established motifs which formed a repertory of Roman subjects inherited from the ‘vedute’ tradition. For example, the composition is very similar to Piranesi’s treatment of the same subject in the engraved series, Veduta di Roma, (1748–78).3
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