Joseph Mallord William Turner

The Forum, Rome, with the Temples of Vespasian and Saturn


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 3

Catalogue entry

This sketch is one of a number of studies Turner made in and around the Forum in Rome. The view is taken from a point near the bottom of the Capitoline Hill looking across towards the three remaining columns of the Temple of Vespasian and the ruined Temple of Saturn beyond. Like many drawings within this sketchbook, the composition has been executed over a washed grey background and Turner has created dramatic tonal contrasts by adding dark brown watercolour wash and white gouache highlights. Cecilia Powell has argued that this technique represents the nearest Turner came in Rome to drawing in the style of the seventeenth-century French artist, Claude Lorrain (circa 1600–82).1 The latter made many images of Italian views executed in sepia tones using a combination of media.2 Turner’s decision to experiment with this manner of working may have been inspired by the choice of subject matter, the ‘Campo Vaccino’, as the Forum was familiarly known. In particular, the French master had favoured the Temple of Castor and Pollux, visible on the far left-hand side of Turner’s study, leading Samuel Palmer to describe the ancient monument as ‘Claude’s three columns’.3
Turner appears to have referred to this sketch for the composition of a later oil painting, Modern Rome – Campo Vaccino exhibited 1839 (Rosebery Collection, on loan to the National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh).4 The picture represents a fabricated view of the Forum but elements such as the angle of the Temple of Vespasian with the Temple of Saturn behind, and the spatial relationship between the Temple of Castor and Pollux and the nearby Church of Santa Maria Liberatrice seem to have been derived from this study. The latter motif can also be seen within Turner’s earlier watercolour, Roman Forum, from the Capitol circa 1816 (Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester),5 published for James Hakewill’s Picturesque Views in Italy, published 1818.6
Unfortunately, in common with many of the sketches and watercolours chosen for display during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, this page has suffered from overexposure to light and the paper has become irreversibly faded and discoloured.
Powell 1984, p.119 and Powell 1987, p.44.
See for example Ian Warrell, Blandine Chavanne and Michael Kitson, Turner et le Lorrain, exhibition catalogue, Musée des beaux-arts, Nancy 2002, nos.44, 46 and 48.
Powell 1984, p.119 and Powell 1987, p.44.
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, no.379.
Andrew Wilton, The Life and Work of J.M.W. Turner, Fribourg 1979, no.704.
W[illiam] G[eorge] Rawlinson, The Engraved Work of J.M.W. Turner, R.A., London 1908, vol.I, no.148, see Tate T06016.

Nicola Moorby
June 2009

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