Joseph Mallord William Turner

St Peter’s and the Vatican from the Gardens of the Villa Barberini, Rome


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 231 × 369 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CLXXXIX 7

Display caption

During his tour of Italy in 1819 Turner made around two thousand sketches of varying size and media and nature, in twenty-three sketchbooks. During his two-to three-month stay in Rome, he produced a series of very detailed pencil drawings on paper prepared
with a grey wash.


The precision and accuracy with which
he has recorded this sweeping view from the hills above St Peter's recalls his early training as an architectural draughtsman. These studies of the topography of the
city and geography of the surrounding
area would have proved invaluable reference material for works undertaken
on his return to England.


Gallery label, September 2004

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Catalogue entry

As Thomas Ashby first identified, Turner’s location for this view of St Peter’s and the Vatican was the Villa Barberini (also known as the Villa Barberini al Gianicolo), a small Baroque casino situated north of the Janiculum Hill, to the immediate south of St Peter’s and the Vatican. Originally owned by Taddeo Barberini, nephew of Pope Urban VIII, the building was largely destroyed during the siege of Rome in 1849,1 but its appearance is partially recorded in an eighteenth-century engraving by Giuseppe Vasi (1710–1782).2 Two small pavilions, the Casino della Palma, and the Palazetto Vercelli survived and are today part of a larger complex owned by the Jesuits and the Collegio di Propoganda Fide.
During the nineteenth century, the Villa Barberini was set within terraced gardens which offered spectacular views across the city. This sketch depicts the prospect looking north-west across the colonnades of Piazza San Pietro towards the magnificent façade and dome of St Peter’s. On the right is the southern end of the Vatican with the Loggia of Raphael, the Cortile di San Damaso and the Apostolic Palace. Ashby identifed the building in the left-hand foreground, behind the curve of the colonnade, as the Palazzo Cesi, formerly the site of an important collection of classical sculpture.3 The ornamental feature in the right-hand foreground is a dolium, a large eathernware jar, traditionally used by Romans for storing foodstuffs.4 Turner made a full coloured version of this subject from a similar but slightly more distant viewpoint (see Tate D16347; Turner Bequest CLXXXIX 21). Several other panoramic studies from the Villa Barberini can be found within this sketchbook (see D16327, D16329, D16358, D16361, D16374; Turner Bequest CLXXXIX 1, 3, 32, 34, 45a) and there is also a single related sketch in the Albano, Nemi, Rome sketchbook (see Tate D15368; Turner Bequest CLXXXII 39).
Like many drawings within the Rome C. Studies sketchbook, this composition has been executed in pencil over a washed grey background. Cecilia Powell has suggested that this choice of media may indicate the influence of Richard Wilson (1713–1782), particularly the Roman studies made for the 2nd Earl of Dartmouth in 1754, which were much admired by artists in the nineteenth century.5 Many of the drawings in the Rome: C. Studies sketchbook reflect compositional devices employed by Wilson, as well as being similar in size and technique. In this subject, the high viewpoint and slanted angle of vision diagonal to the picture plane, is reminiscent of a number of Wilson’s sketches, such as The Palatine Mount 1754 (Cecil Higgins Art Gallery, Bedford).6 Unfortunately, in common with many of the sketches and watercolours chosen for display during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the page has suffered from overexposure to light and the paper has become irreversibly faded and discoloured. Peter Bower has suggested that this is probably down to the high content of indigo in the grey watercolour wash, rather than properties within the paper.7
Anthony Blunt, Guide to Baroque Rome, London, Toronto, Sydney and New York 1982, p.210.
See, accessed July 2009.
Ashby 1925, p.25.
Powell 1987, pp.46–8.
Reproduced in ibid., pl.54, p.[47].
Peter Bower, Turner’s Papers: A Study of the Manufacture, Selection and Use of his Drawing Papers 1787–1820, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1990, p.120.

Nicola Moorby
July 2009

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