Joseph Mallord William Turner

The So-Called Temple of Vesta, Tivoli


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 253 × 200 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CLXXXIII 47

Catalogue entry

The so-called Temple of Vesta is an ancient circular edifice dating from the first century BC which stands on the brink of the valley at the northern edge of Tivoli. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries it represented an important site for the study of classical architecture and was one of the most popular motifs for artists visiting Italy. This sketch depicts a view from the promontory on the opposite side of the gorge (present-day Hotel Sirene) looking north, an angle which displays the semi-circle of extant Corinthian columns, as well as the doorway of the inner cella. This vista from a viewpoint virtually level with the ruin, was one adopted by many artists,1 possibly following the compositional precedent set by Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720–1778) in his etching, Altra vedute del tempio della Sibilla in Tivoli, from the Vedute di Roma.2 Visible in the background is the campanile of the Church of San Giorgio, a building which until the end of the nineteenth century incorporated the remains of the so-called Temple of the Sibyl. Like many drawings within this sketchbook, the composition has been executed over a washed grey background. Turner has created highlights by rubbing or lifting out the wash to reveal the white paper beneath, principally to delineate the architecture of the temple and to emphasise the sheer, craggy drop of the gorge below. Similar sketches can be found in the Tivoli and Rome sketchbook (Tate D15049 and D15095; Turner Bequest CLXXIX 65a and 88). For a detailed description of the Temple of Vesta and other related studies see folio 44 verso (D15513).
See for example British School, 18th Century, Temple of the Sibyl, Tivoli, (Tate, T09115), John ‘Warwick’ Smith (1749–1831), The Temple of Sibyl at Tivoli, (Tate, T08207), and Antoine-Félix Boisselier (1790–1857), The Temple of Vesta at Tivoli circa 1811 (Stanford University Museum of Art), reproduced in Philip Conisbee, Sarah Faunce and Jeremy Strick, In the Light of Italy: Corot and early Open-Air Painting, exhibition catalogue, National Gallery of Art, Washington 1996, no.50, p.163.
Luigi Ficacci, Piranesi: The Complete Etchings, Köln and London 2000, no.934, reproduced p.720.
Blank, except for traces of grey watercolour wash

Nicola Moorby
February 2010

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