Joseph Mallord William Turner

The Arch of Constantine and the Colosseum, Rome


Not on display

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite and watercolour on paper
Support: 130 × 255 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CXC 4

Catalogue entry

The subject of this view is the southern façade of the Arch of Constantine and the adjacent Colosseum from the Via San Gregorio. Like many drawings within this sketchbook, the composition has been sketched over a washed grey background, although in this instance Turner has extensively worked up the design with further watercolour. He has also created highlights by scratching through to the white paper beneath. The page was selected for the Second Loan Collection, a group of 62 works chosen by Ralph Nicholson Wornum for exhibition in the provinces during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.1 Consequently, like the other works included in those tours, the drawing has suffered from over-exposure to light. The paper has yellowed and the watercolour, particularly the blue, has faded.
Dating from the fourth century AD, the Arch of Constantine was built to celebrate the victory of the Emperor Constantine over his co-ruler Maxentius at the Battle of Milvian Bridge. This sketchbook contains a number of other drawings of the Arch seen from different angles, see folios 22, 15 verso and 36 (D16396, D16416 and D16455; Turner Bequest 2, 15a and 41). Further sketches of the monument seen in relation to the Colosseum can be found within the Albano, Nemi, Rome sketchbook (Tate D15397; Turner Bequest CLXXXII 53), the St Peter’s sketchbook (Tate D16197; Turner Bequest CLXXXVIII 2), and the Rome C. Studies sketchbook (Tate D16354 and D16355; Turner Bequest CLXXXIX 28 and 29). Furthermore, Turner also made detailed studies of the various bas-reliefs which cover the surface of the monument, see the St Peter’s sketchbook (Tate D16190 and D16194–D16196; Turner Bequest CLXXXVIII 18 and 20–21 and Tate D17158; Turner Bequest CXCV a H). The composition of this coloured sketch, and the tonal contrasts of the dark foliage with the illuminated architectural features bears some similarities to Turner’s later unfinished oil painting, The Arch of Constantine, Rome circa 1835 (Tate, N02066).2
Warrell 1991, pp.43–45.
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, no.438.

Nicola Moorby
May 2009

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