Joseph Mallord William Turner

The Roman Campagna with Monte Gennaro in the Distance


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Watercolour on paper
Support: 259 × 406 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CLXXXVII 41

Display caption

Although Turner had produced paintings of Italian subjects earlier in his career, it wasn't until 1819, when he was forty-four, that he finally toured the country himself. Having prepared thoroughly for this important journey beforehand, he spent
a rigorous few months sketching and painting in Turin, Milan, Venice and Ancona, before arriving in Rome.


Here, Turner has used a very free,
wet-on-wet watercolour technique
in broad bands of pure colour. The foreground effect may have been achieved with the addition of gum arabic, to slow down the drying of the paint and allow him to drive it around on the paper.

Gallery label, September 2004

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Catalogue entry

A large number of studies from the Naples: Rome C. Studies sketchbook represent variant views of the Roman Campagna, the area of countryside encircling the outskirts of the Eternal City (Tate D16122–D16139; Turner Bequest CLXXXVII 34–51). This is one of six such compositions where Turner has developed the landscape in watercolour (see also Tate D16122–D16123, D16130–D16131, D16133; Turner Bequest CLXXXVII 34–35, 42–43, 45). Finberg identified the subject of this work as Monte Gennaro, one of the peaks of the Sabine mountains which lie beyond the town of Palombara to the north-east of Rome and north of Tivoli. Turner has delineated the distinctive profile of the mountain rising above the plain of the Campagna.1 The isolated vertical structure in the middle distance is possibly a tower or other building.
Further studies of the Campagna dating from Turner’s 1819 Italian tour can be found in the St Peter’s sketchbook (see Tate D16217–D16226; Turner Bequest CLXXXVIII 35–40) and throughout the Small Roman C. Studies sketchbook (see Tate; Turner Bequest CXC). By the nineteenth century, exploration of the city’s environs had become as much part of the Roman experience as its architecture and monuments. Turner’s forays into the Campagna followed a long artistic tradition established during the seventeenth century by Claude Lorrain (circa 1600–1682) 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’. Turner, in particular, admired the work of Claude Lorrain whose paintings such as The Roman Campagna circa 1639 (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) combined motifs studied on the spot with an idealised vision of landscape. Throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, artists in search of authentic Italian landscape continued to follow the precedent for drawing and painting the Campagna and during the 1820s a small European coterie began to focus on painting in the open air.2 Unlike earlier topographical artists who had focused their depiction of the Campagna on images of selected landmarks, nineteenth century en plein air painters such as Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot (1796–1875) and his contemporaries developed a new approach rooted in empirical observation. Working directly from nature they produced panoramic views of vast barren spaces, deserted except for distant hills and isolated ruins which served to emphasise the grand emptiness of the terrain.
A similar distant view of the mountain can be found in the background above the Palazzo Barberini in Giuseppe Vasi’s etching, Grand View of Rome 1765, see Raymond Keaveney, Views of Rome from the Thomas Ashby Collection in the Vatican Library, exhibition catalogue, Smithsonian Institution, Washington 1988, reproduced inner back cover.
Peter Galassi, Corot in Italy: Open-Air Painting and the Classical-Landscape Tradition, New Haven and London 1991, pp.120–2.
Letter to John Soane from his son, 15 November 1819, quoted in Cecilia Powell, Turner in the South: Rome, Naples, Florence, New Haven and London 1987, p.50.
Wilton 1975, p.56 under no.73.

Nicola Moorby
February 2009

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