Joseph Mallord William Turner

The River Tiber and the Torre Lazzaroni, Rome


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
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 51

Catalogue entry

By the nineteenth century, exploration of the city’s environs had become as much part of the Roman experience as its architecture and monuments, and Turner made a large number of studies of the landscape north of the city. Many of the views within this sketchbook appear to relate to a single perambulation from Sant’Agnese fuori le mura to Ponte Sant’Angelo, by way of the Ponte Molle (for further information see the sketchbook introduction). The subject of this sketch is the view looking east from a point near the Ponte Molle bridge. The River Tiber stretches across the centre of the composition and snakes its way towards the distant range of mountains. Beside the bank on the far left-hand side is the Torre Lazzaroni, a medieval tower erected over the remains of a Roman tomb.1 This area of the Roman Campagna was characterised by a number of such towers built for the protection of the city by Leo IV (Pope, 847–855 AD).2 A more detailed sketch can be seen on folio 27 (D16442; Turner Bequest CXC 32) and a similar but more panoramic pair of prospects can be found in the Naples: Rome C. Studies sketchbook (Tate D16136 and D16137; Turner Bequest CLXXXVII 48 and 49). Furthermore, the juxtaposition of the Torre Lazzaroni with the Ponte Molle can also be seen in the St Peter’s sketchbook (see Tate D16220; CLXXXVIII 37). Like many drawings within this sketchbook, the composition has been executed over a washed grey background. Turner has created areas of pale highlights by lifting or rubbing through to the white paper beneath, principally to delineate the snow on the peaks of the Sabine mountains and the reflection of light on the surface of the river.
Turner’s forays into the Campagna followed a long artistic tradition established during the seventeenth century by Claude Lorrain (circa 1600–82) and Nicolas Poussin (1594–1665). The two French masters had famously made a number of sketching trips along the banks of the Tiber north of the city; indeed the countryside between the Porta del Popolo and the Ponte Molle had popularly become known as the ‘Promenade de Poussin’.3 In particular, Turner may have been reminded of the paintings of Claude. A cylindrical building similar to the tower within this sketch appears in The Mill on the Tiber, 1650 (Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City) and The Mill, or the Marriage of Isaac and Rebecca, 1648 (National Gallery, London). The latter was one of two paintings by the French painter which Turner requested should be hung in perpetuity next to his own Sun rising through Vapour and Dido building Carthage.4
See Raymond Keaveney, Views of Rome from the Thomas Ashby Collection in the Vatican Library, exhibition catalogue, Smithsonian Institution, Washington 1988, p.232; and Charles R. Mack and Lyn Robertson (eds.), The Roman Remains: John Izard Middleton’s Visual Souvenirs of 1820–23, South Carolina 1997, pp.162–3. A watercolour by Edward Lear of the same view was sold at Sotheby’s London, Important British Pictures, 24 November 2005, lot 166, reproduced in colour.
Keaveney 1988, p.232.
See Richard Verdi, ‘Poussin’s Life in Nineteenth-Century Pictures’, Burlington Magazine, vol.111, no.801, December 1969, p.742; and Peter Galassi, Corot in Italy: Open-Air Painting and the Classical-Landscape Tradition, New Haven and London 1991, pp.162–3.
Michael Kitson, ‘Claude Lorrain’, in Evelyn Joll, Martin Butlin and Luke Herrmann (eds.), The Oxford Companion to J.M.W. Turner, Oxford 2001, p.49.

Nicola Moorby
June 2009

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