Joseph Mallord William Turner

The Roman Campagna, with Ponte Salario and the Confluence of the Tiber and Aniene Rivers


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Watercolour on paper
Support: 254 × 405 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CLXXXVII 34

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 D16123, D16129–D16131, D16133; Turner Bequest CLXXXVII 35, 41–43, 45). The work depicts a location to the north of Rome where the River Aniene joins the curve of the larger River Tiber. As Thomas Ashby first identified, the featured bridge is the Ponte Salario, a crossing near the confluence of the two rivers which carried the Via Salaria (Salt Road) across the Aniene to the north.1 This ancient highway, said to derive its name from the salt trade, left the city at Porta Salaria in the Aurelian walls, east of the Borghese gardens between Porta Pinciana and Porta Pia, and led north-east as far as the Adriatic coast, approximately fifty miles south-east of Ancona.2 In Turner’s composition, the Via Salaria is indicated by the broad streak of brown paint in the foreground which leads the eye of the viewer from the bottom left-hand corner towards the bridge in the middle distance. Beyond the bridge is a watch-tower, sometimes known as the Torre Salaria or the Tomb of Mario, described by Ashby as ‘a large tomb of tufa concrete ... with a chamber in the form of Greek cross and a medieval tower above’.3 The bridge was destroyed in 1867 by Papal and French troops defending Rome against Giuseppe Garibaldi but the tower still survives today.4 Related pencil views can be found on folios 37 and 38 (D16125, D16126) and Turner also made more detailed studies – see the verso of this sheet (D41482) and D41514, the verso of D16121 (Turner Bequest CLXXXVII 33).
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 D16459; Turner Bequest CXC 45). 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.5 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.
Ashby 1925, p.22.
The present-day SS4 highway follows much of the same route.
Thomas Ashby, The Roman campagna in Classical Times, 1927, quoted in Raymond Keaveney, Views of Rome from the Thomas Ashby Collection in the Vatican Library, exhibition catalogue, Smithsonian Institution, Washington 1988, pp.233–4.
See Oreste Ferrari, Tea Marintelli, Valerie Scott et al., Thomas Ashby: Un Archeologo Fotografa la Campagna Romana Tra ’800 e’900, Rome 1986, p.24, no.2 fig.1.
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.
Butlin, Wilson and Gage 1974, p.130 under no.471 and Butlin and Joll 1984, no.318, p.180.
Butlin and Joll 1984, nos.318–27, pp.179–81.
See Cecilia Powell’s entry on ‘Roman Oil Sketches’ in Evelyn Joll, Martin Butlin and Luke Herrmann (eds.), The Oxford Companion to J.M.W. Turner, Oxford 2001, pp.266–8.
Butlin and Joll 1984, nos.302–17, pp.176–9.
Ian Warrell, Turner on the Seine, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1999, pp.23, 28–30.
Joll, Butlin and Herrmann (eds.) 2001, p.268.

Nicola Moorby
February 2009

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