Joseph Mallord William Turner

The So-Called Sedia del Diavolo, 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 47

Catalogue entry

In addition to the great monuments and buildings of central Rome, Turner recorded a number of noted landmarks found in the northern outskirts of the city such as the Fontana dell’Acqua Acetosa (see the Naples: Rome C. Studies sketchbook, Tate D16138; Turner Bequest CLXXXVII 50), the Torre Lazzaroni (see folio 27, D16442; Turner Bequest CXC 32) and the Ponte Molle (see folio 53, D16475; Turner Bequest CXC 59). The subject of this sketch is the so-called Sedia del Diavolo (Devil’s Chair), a Roman tomb dating from the second or third century which stands in present-day Piazza Callistio, near to the ancient Via Nomentana.1 The brick structure, known today as the tomb of Elio Callistio, is comprised of two storeys and derives its names from the shape suggested by its three surviving walls.2 Its ruined appearance, perched on an area of high ground between the Ponte Nomentano and the Church of Sant’Agnese fuori le mura, represented a picturesque motif for topographical artists.3 Turner made a number of studies around the tomb, documenting its appearance from a variety of angles, see folios 1, 25 verso, 26 verso, 39 and 43 (D16399, D16426, D16428, D16458 and D16463; Turner Bequest CXC 5, 22a, 23a, 44 and 48). He also recorded its location in relation to the Ponte Nomentano, see folios 24 verso and 45 (D16424 and D16465; Turner Bequest CXC 21a and 50). This composition depicts the structure from the south-west, showing the most complete wall of the outer façade. Like many drawings within the sketchbook, it has been executed over a washed grey background.
The sketch was previously identified by Cecilia Powell as the so-called Temple of Salus, a Roman funerary monument which appears in an etching by Piranesi, Tempio antico volgarmente detto della Salute [Ancient Temple popularly known as Temple of Salus] 1763, from the Vedute di Roma (1748–1778).4 However, this latter tomb, which stands on the Via Appia Nuova, approximately one mile from the junction with the Via Appia Pignatelli, is characterised by a decorative frieze of bas-reliefs beneath the capitals of the Corinthian pilasters and does not have the doorway or window openings visible in Turner’s drawing.5 It also stands on a flat area of land rather than the small hillock clearly shown. Both Powell and Jan Piggott have argued that it is the same ruin featured in Turner’s vignette, Campagna of Rome circa 1827, for Rogers’s Italy (see Tate D27678; CCLXXX 161).6 The re-identification of this and other sketches in the Small Roman C. Studies sketchbook as the Sedia del Diavolo leads to the conclusion that it must be this ruin, not the Temple of Salus, which appears in the watercolour. The choice of landmark may have been inspired by Rogers’s lines, ‘An empty tomb, a fragment like the limb | of some dismembered giant’, re-calling the popular notion that the Sedia del Diavolo was a vast chair used by the Devil.7 In common with many of the vignette illustrations for Rogers’s Italy, Turner has fabricated the scene using composite details from different landmarks. He has represented the structure on level, not hilly terrain, and has placed it in the vicinity of the imagined remains of an aqueduct.
Touring club italiano, Roma e Dintorni, 6th edition, Milan 1977, p.319; and Raymond Keaveney, Views of Rome from the Thomas Ashby Collection in the Vatican Library, exhibition catalogue, Smithsonian Institution, Washington 1988, p.242.
See photographs in Oreste Ferrari, Tea Marintelli, Valerie Scott et al., Thomas Ashby: Un Archeologo Fotografa la Campagna Romana Tra ’800 e’900, Rome 1986, p.32, no.10 figs. 1–4. See also the on-line photographic archive of Antonio Cederna (1921–1996),, accessed June 2009.
See for example a drawing attributed to Jacques-Françoise Amand (1730–69), reproduced in Keaveney 1988, no.66, p.243, and an oil painting by Richard Wilson, Strada Nomentana circa 1765–70 (Tate, N00301).
Powell 1984, p.428. See Luigi Ficacci, Piranesi: The Complete Etchings, Köln and London 2000, no.942, reproduced p.725.
See, accessed June 2009.
Powell 1984, p.428 and Piggott 1993, p.82.
Samuel Rogers, Italy, London 1830, p.157.

Nicola Moorby
June 2009

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