Joseph Mallord William Turner

The Amphitheatre of Domitian and the Church of San Paolo, Albano


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 113 × 189 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CLXXXII 3

Catalogue entry

The sketches on this page depict the ruins of the Amphitheatre of Domitian at Albano. There are many ancient remains to be seen in the town including the Castra Albana camp of Septimius Severus, the imperial villa, the ancient gates of the Porta Pretoria and Porta Principalis Sinistra, the baths of Cellomaio and the cistern which fed the town. However, Octavian Blewitt in his Hand-book for Travellers in Central Italy (first published in 1842) described the amphitheatre as ‘the most remarkable remains’ which were situated ‘between the Church of S. Paolo and the Cappuccini, mentioned by Suetonius and by Juvenal as the scene of the most revolting cruelties of the last and worst of the Caesars.’1 The smaller study in the top right-hand corner appears to depict part of the amphitheatre on the hill above the town with the campanile of the Church of San Paolo visible on the left (see also folio 1 verso, D15297). Turner’s sketch shows the ruins on the right and the sea on the left and confirms that he must have been facing south-west.
Turner’s rough sketches of these ruins may have been inspired by Piranesi (1720–1778). The latter’s etching Rovine dell’Anfiteatro detto di Domiziano was published as part of Antichità d’Albano e di Castel Gandolfo, 1764.2 The larger view in particular is similar in composition to Piranesi’s and captures something of the crumbling grandeur of the brick arches.

Nicola Moorby
May 2008

Octavian Blewitt, A Hand-book for Travellers in Central Italy, London 1850, 2nd edition p.570.
See Luigi Ficacci, Piranesi: The Complete Etchings, Köln and London 2000, no.571, reproduced p.461.

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