Turner was particularly attracted by the spectacle of Tivoli’s ancient ruins perched above the steep, wooded gorge and streaming waterfalls to the north of the town. This study depicts the view looking south from the floor of the valley towards the long arcades of the Santuario di Ercole Vincitore (Sanctuary of Hercules the Victor), a ruined Roman temple dedicated to the cult of Hercules. The position of the sun suggests that the artist must have observed the scene at late afternoon. Compositional precedents for the view include John ‘Warwick’ Smith (1749–1831), Villa of Mecenas, an engraved plate from the publication Select Views in Italy, which Turner copied in the Italian Guide Book sketchbook (see Tate D13966; Turner Bequest CLXXII19), and a drawing by James Hakewill (1778–1843), Villa of Maecenas and Cascatelle. Tivoli 1816 (British School at Rome Library), engraved for Hakewill’s Picturesque Tour of Italy, published in 1819.1
Formerly known as the Villa of Maecenas, the Santuario di Ercole Vincitore was one of Tivoli’s most popular picturesque motifs. It features in many of Turner’s 1819 sketches looking both up and down the valley, and he also made detailed tonal studies of the architecture and the arched passageway underneath the ruin’s substructures (see for example Tate D15486; Turner Bequest CLXXXIII 20). It was the vista from the north-east however, which seems to have held the greatest visual appeal. Similar views can be found on folios 46 verso–47, 48 verso, 53 verso and 56 (D15013–D15014, D15018, D15025, D15030), as well as in the Tivoli sketchbook (Tate D15469 and D41397; Turner Bequest CLXXXIII 3 and verso of 1) and in the Naples: Rome C. Studies sketchbook (Tate D16120–D16121; Turner Bequest CLXXXVII 32–3). Turner later considered developing the view for the Tivoli vignette illustration for Rogers’s Italy, 1830 (see Tate D27605; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 88), and ultimately revisited it within an oil sketch, Tivoli, the Cascatelle circa 1827–8 (Tate, N03388) and an unfinished painting, Tivoli: Tobias and the Angel circa 1835 (Tate, N02067).2
Tony Cubberley and Luke Herrmann, Twilight of the Grand Tour: A Catalogue of the drawings by James Hakewill in the British School at Rome Library, Rome 1992, no.5.3, p.226, reproduced.
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, nos.311 and 437.