This rough watercolour and pencil sketch is a preliminary study for the vignette The Forum, which Turner produced for Rogers’s Italy (see Tate D27675; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 158). It shows a frieze-like funeral procession passing before a three-columned Roman structure; the hooded gowns worn by the processors indicate that they are monks. Turner’s image of contemporary Roman ritual set against a backdrop of decaying classical ruins echoes Rogers’s fascination with the co-existence of past and present in the Italian landscape. The funeral procession had particular significance for Rogers, who viewed it as a metaphor for the demise of ancient Roman civilisation.1 This choice of subject may have also been intended to foreshadow the content of the next section in Italy, which begins with an account of a young girl’s funeral.
Several rounded pencil strokes appear above the central scene, suggesting that Turner intended to frame his subject within an archway. This is a visual strategy that he employs in his other two versions of the subject. A second preliminary study shows a seated beggar and a monk beneath an archway (see Tate D27620; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 103). In the final version, Turner retained the archway as a framing device but dramatically altered the vignette’s content by eliminating the foreground figures and filling the space beyond the arch with a view into the Roman Forum.
Turner produced this and three other preliminary studies for Italy vignettes on sheets of the same paper type and size; it is possible that they originally formed part of a single sheet. The three related studies are Tate D27618, D27622, D27623; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 101, 105, 106. All were part of a bundle labelled by John Ruskin on the wrapper as ‘Studies for Italy. Coarse, but noble’.2 Finberg records how Ruskin later described his phrasing in a letter to Ralph Nicholson Wornum as ‘horrible’, adding ‘I never meant it to be permanent’.3
Inscribed by unknown hands in pencil ‘CCLXXX 104’ and ‘AB 83 P’ and ‘R’ bottom right