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 x 255 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CXC 48

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 42 (D16399, D16426, D16428, D16458 and D16462; Turner Bequest CXC 5, 22a, 23a, 44 and 47). 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, showing the crumbling walls of the outer façade with a view through to the interior. The angle of the view is very close to that depicted by the eighteenth-century Welsh landscape artist, Richard Wilson (1713–1782) in a number of paintings, see for example Strada Nomentana circa 1765–70 (Tate, N00301).4 It is also repeated in a contemporary oil sketch by the Austrian artist, Heinrich Reinhold (1788–1825), The Roman Campagna, with Mount Soracte 1819–24 (Kunsthalle, Hamburg).5 Like many drawings within this sketchbook, the study has been executed over a washed grey background and Turner has lifted or rubbed through to the paper beneath to create white highlights.
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.
See also Strada Nomentana, (Tate, N04511), Classical Landscape with Venus and Adonis circa 1754–5 (Victoria and Albert Museum) and View on the Via Nomentana circa 1766 (Russell-Cotes Art Gallery & Museum, Bournemouth), reproduced in David Solkin, Richard Wilson, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1982, nos.70 and 123.
See Peter Galassi, Corot in Italy: Open-Air Painting and the Classical-Landscape Tradition, New Haven and London 1991, p.121, reproduced fig.148.
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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