Joseph Mallord William Turner

The Portico of Octavia, Rome


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 114 × 189 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CLXXXVIII 50

Catalogue entry

The remains of the Portico of Octavia (Porticus Octaviae) stand near the Theatre of Marcellus in Rome. Built in honour of the sister of the Emperor Augustus, the portico is the only surviving part of a larger piazza which housed temples and other buildings. Turner’s sketch depicts the main entrance of the structure, characterised by a large arch added to the portico during the Middle Ages which disrupted the classical symmetry of the remaining columns.1 On the right-hand side of the page he has also drawn several separate studies of individual architectural elements such as the entablature and the Corinthian capitals. The view is similar to that depicted by Piranesi (1720–1778) in his etching, Veduta dell’Atrio del Portico di Ottavia from the Veduta di Roma,2 and Giuseppi Vasi’s, Piazza di Pescaria, from Book II of Sulle Magnificenze di Roma Antica e Moderna (1752).3
The dome and cupola in the background on the right belongs to the Church of Santa Maria in Campitelli but the building just visible beyond the main arch is Sant’Angelo in Pescheria, an eighth-century Church which incorporated part of the Roman ruins into its southern end.4 The name literally translates as the ‘Holy Angel in the Fish-market’ and commemorates the fact that between the third century AD and the end of the nineteenth century the Portico of Octavia housed the city’s principal fish market. The bustle of everyday working life within the shadow of the decaying ancient remains represented a colourful spectacle for nineteenth-century visitors to Rome and amongst the painters who treated the subject were Turner’s contemporary Samuel Prout (1783–1852), The Fishmarket at the Portico of Octavia, watercolour, c.1824 (Museo di Roma) and the German-American painter Albert Bierstadt (1830–1902), Roman Fish Market, Arch of Octavius 1855 (Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, California). In this sketch, Turner too has drawn some of the traders selling their wares in the foreground. Further related views can be found on folios 51 verso and 52 (Tate D16246 and D16247; Turner Bequest CLXXXVIII 50a and 51).

Nicola Moorby
September 2008

John W. Stamper, The Architecture of Roman Temples, Cambridge 2005, p.245 note 147.
Luigi Ficacci, Piranesi: The Complete Etchings, Köln and London 2000, no.904, reproduced p.704.
See, accessed September 2008.
Matilda Webb, The Churches and Catacombs of Early Christian Rome, Brighton 2001, pp.165–66.
Charlotte Anne Eaton, Rome in the Nineteenth Century, Edinburgh and London, fourth edition 1826, vol.II, p.286.

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