Turner’s exploration of Tivoli included a large number of landscape sketches drawn from the river valley to the north. He was particularly attracted by the spectacle of the town’s ancient ruins perched above the steep, wooded gorge and streaming waterfalls. This study depicts the view looking south from the floor of the valley. On the left-hand side are the cascatelli (or cascatelle), the lesser cascades caused by a branch of the River Aniene emerging from an underground passage at the top of the slopes at the northern tip of the town. The vista rises to a medieval watch-tower, situated near the Piazza dell’Olmo (present-day Piazza Domenico Tani). Silhouetted along the top of the slope at the centre of the middle distance are the long arcades of the Santuario di Ercole Vincitore (Sanctuary of Hercules the Victor), a first-century BC Roman temple dedicated to the cult of Hercules. Like many drawings within this sketchbook, the composition has been executed over a washed grey background. Turner has created highlights within the work by rubbing or lifting out the wash to reveal the white paper beneath, principally to create the silvery streams of falling water, the winding course of the river, and the pale disc of the sun and lightening sky on the horizon.
Formerly known as the Villa of Maecenas, the Santuario di Ercole Vincitore was one of Tivoli’s most famous landmarks. Its picturesque qualities were described by Revd John Chetwode Eustace who, in A Classical Tour Through Italy, first published in 1813, recommended the view from the opposite side of the valley:
As the traveller, following the bend of the hill, comes to the side of the road opposite to the town, he catches first a side glimpse, and shortly after a full view of the Cascatelli, or lesser cascades, inferior in mass and grandeur, but equal in beauty to the great fall in the town. They are formed by a branch of the Anio turned off from the main body of the river, before it reaches the precipice, for the uses of the inhabitants, and after it has crossed the town bursting from a wood on the summit of the hill, and then tumbling from its brow in one great and several lesser streams, first down one and then another declivity, through thickets and brambles spangled with dew drops or lighted up with a rainbow. The elevation and mass of these cascades; the colours and broken masses of the rocks down which they tumble; the shrubs, plants and brambles that hang over the channel and sometimes bathe themselves in the current; the river below fretting through a narrow pass under a natural arch; the olives that shade that arch, and the vines that wave around it; the bold bendings and easy sweeps of the surrounding mountains; and the towers of the town rising on the top of the hill beyond the cascade, with the ruins of Maecenas’s villa on its shelving side, form one of the most delicious pictures for softness and beauty, wildness and animation, that can be imagined.1
John Chetwode Eustace, A Classical Tour Through Italy, London 1815, 3rd edition, vol.II, pp.237–9.
Tony Cubberley and Luke Herrmann, Twilight of the Grand Tour: A Catalogue of the drawings by James Hakewill in the British School at Rome Library, Rome 1992, no.5.3, p.226, reproduced.
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, nos.311 and 437.