Joseph Mallord William Turner

Sketches of the Villa Adriana, Tivoli: the Serapeum, the Praetorium and the Large Baths


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 112 × 186 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CLXXIX 33

Catalogue entry

Turner’s trip to Tivoli included a visit to the Villa Adriana (Hadrian’s Villa), an elaborate palace and garden complex approximately one mile south-west of the town. The detour seems to have been necessarily brief, but he used the time that was available to him to make several swift studies of the key buildings of interest, see folio 32 verso (D14985). Cecilia Powell first correctly identified the subjects of the sketches on this page.1 The study in the top left-hand corner represents the Serapeum, a shell-shaped exedra or grotto which stands at the southern end of the Canopus, a long water basin flanked by a colonnade and statues. The edifice was designed to be reminiscent of the temple of Serapis in the Egyptian city of Canopus. Today the water and the ornamental decorations of the Canopus have been restored to something approaching their original state, but in Turner’s day the Serapeum would have been the only visible structure of note.2
The sketches in the top right-hand corner, and at the bottom of the page both represent the same view, the Praetorium (a pavilion with a panoramic view overlooking the estate) on the right, looking north towards the Large Baths on the left. All three vistas have been executed looking in different directions from the same viewpoint, a location on the path approaching the Canopus, to the west of the Large Baths. Further sketches from a similar point can be seen on folios 32 verso and 33 verso (D14985 and D14987).

Nicola Moorby
January 2010

Powell 1984, p.410.
The Serapeum appears in an etching by Giovanni Battista Piranesi, Avanzi del Tempio del Dio Canopo nella Villa Adriana, from the Vedute di Roma, see Luigi Ficacci, Piranesi: The Complete Etchings, Köln and London 2000, no.961, reproduced p.735.

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