Joseph Mallord William Turner

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


Not on display

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Gouache, graphite and watercolour on paper
Support: 231 × 370 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CLXXXIX 21

Display caption

Rome was considered by artists, patrons and connoisseurs to be the artistic capital of Europe. Thomas Lawrence wrote to fellow artist Joseph Farington in 1819, 'Turner should come to Rome. His Genius would here be supplied with new Materials and entirely congenial with it.'

This is one of many sketches Turner made during his first stay in Rome, in 1819. After his return he used his sketches as the basis for major oil paintings, including The Bay of Baiae (shown in this room) and the Forum Romanum, for Mr Soanes Museum (shown in room 41).

Gallery label, September 2004

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Catalogue entry

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 and on the far right in the distance is the Monte Mario. The ornamental feature in the foreground is a dolium, a large eathernware jar traditionally used by Romans for storing foodstuffs.3 Turner made a detailed pencil drawing of the same subject from a similar but slightly closer viewpoint (see Tate D16333; Turner Bequest CLXXXIX 7). Several other panoramic studies from the Villa Barberini can also be found within this sketchbook (see D16327, D16329, D16358, D16361, D16374; Turner Bequest CLXXXIX 1, 3, 32, 34, 45a) and there is 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, the composition has been executed over a washed grey background. Turner started with a basic outline in pencil before extensively developing the scene in watercolour. Unlike the related drawing which accurately reproduces every detail of the architectural topography, the focus of this study is the mellow light of late afternoon. Turner has painted the dome and front of St Peter’s in cool grey tones but the adjacent Apostolic Palace, the colonnades and the buildings in front of the Piazza San Pietro are bathed in a rosy pink from the light of the sun setting on the left. Tonal contrast is provided by the dark silhouttes of the trees and the long shadows cast on the left. Turner has further enlivened the foreground with pale scratched out highlights delineating the decorative layout and features of the Barberini garden. Two figures dressed like clerics appear to survey the panorama spread before them, whilst a note of comic interest is introduced by the boy peering inside the dolium. Andrew Wilton has suggested that this careful ‘repoussoir’ organisation of the foreground seems to imitate Richard Wilson’s Roman views painted for the Earl of Dartmouth during the 1750s.4 These include a series of distant prospects of the city taken from famous vantage points such as Monte Mario or the Janiculum Hill.5
Anthony Blunt, Guide to Baroque Rome, London, Toronto, Sydney and New York 1982, p.210.
See, accessed July 2009.
Thomas Ashby, Turner’s Visions of Rome, London and New York 1925, p.25.
Wilton 1975, p.58.
See for example, Rome: St Peter’s and the Vatican from the Janiculum 1753–4 (Tate, T01783).

Nicola Moorby
July 2009

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