Joseph Mallord William Turner

The Colosseum and the Basilica of Constantine from the Palatine Hill, Rome


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite and watercolour on paper
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CLXXXIX 20

Catalogue entry

The Palatine Hill was one of the most popular vantage points in Rome and Turner made a large number of studies recording views of the city seen in all directions. This sketch depicts the prospect seen from the Farnese Gardens (Orti Farnesina) near the sixteenth-century aviaries on the northern side of the hill. Turner’s view looks north-east across the Forum towards the Colosseum which dominates the right-hand side of the compostion. On the far left are the vast remains of the Basilica of Constantine and Maxentius, whilst in between these two monuments are, from left to right: the Torre dei Margani, near San Pietro in Vincoli; the church and campanile of Santa Francesca Romana; in the far distance, the two domes of Santa Maria Maggiore; in the middle distance, the Arch of Titus; and finally the Torre dei Capocci and the Baths of Trajan, on the Esquiline Hill. In the immediate foreground, Turner has faintly sketched trees and architectural remains from the Farnese Gardens. The design is similar to one drawn by James Hakewill in 1817, Rome. Temple of Peace from the Orti Farnesina (British School at Rome) which Turner would have undoubtedly known from his work on Hakewill’s Picturesque Tour, just before his 1819 trip to Rome.1
Like many drawings within the Rome C. Studies sketchbook, the composition has been executed over a washed grey background. Turner started with a basic outline in pencil before partially developing the scene in watercolour. The colour he has added is naturalistic and local, and largely confined to the central line of the horizon. Highlights have been added using white gouache. Related views can be found on other pages from this book (see Tate D16356, D16369, D16382, D16394; Turner Bequest CLXXXIX 30, 42, 53, 62a).
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.3.20, p.201 reproduced.
Blank, except for traces of watercolour; inscribed by an unknown hand in pencil ‘20’ bottom centre right, and stamped in black ‘CLXXXIX 20’ bottom centre.

Nicola Moorby
July 2009

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