Joseph Mallord William Turner

St Peter’s and the Vatican, Rome, from the Arco Oscuro


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 255 × 403 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CLXXXVII 46

Catalogue entry

Turner often sought out the established sketching points in Rome and this drawing depicts a well-known view of St Peter’s and the Vatican from the Arco Oscuro, a tunnel close to the Villa Giulia which led to a chapel hidden within a cave. The prospect is taken from a point near the top of the present-day Via di Villa Guilia, north of the Piazza del Popolo and the gardens of the Villa Borghese, looking south-west towards the famous cathedral and the Vatican. The road slopes away from the view towards the dark arched entrance to the tunnel in the central foreground. Today this area is a built–up residential district but during Turner’s day it was still rural countryside. The dome of St Peter’s rising above a lush woodland landscape presented a naturally picturesque subject for artists, and the view had been particularly popular with late eighteenth century topographical English watercolourists such as William Pars,1 and Francis Towne.2 During the early nineteenth century it had also been recorded by the French painter, Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres,3 and the view appears in the background of a portrait drawing of Charles Marcotte d’Argenteuil, 1811 (Musée du Louvre, Paris).4
A similar view taken at a greater distance from the Arco Oscuro can be found on folio 47 (D16135).
See for example Francis W. Hawcroft, Travels in Italy 1776–1783: Based on the ‘Memoirs’ of Thomas Jones, exhibition catalogue, Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester 1988, no.17, pp.21–2.
See for example ibid., no.22, p.27, reproduced in colour p.36.
See Hans Naef, Ingres in Rome, exhibition catalogue, National Gallery of Art, Washington 1971, nos.110–113, pp.98–102.
Blank, save for being stamped in black ‘CLXXXVII 46’ and Turner Bequest monogram bottom left.

Nicola Moorby
April 2009

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