Joseph Mallord William Turner

The Theatre of Marcellus, Rome


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 114 × 189 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CLXXXVIII 49 a

Catalogue entry

Cecilia Powell has identified the subject of this sketch as the Theatre of Marcellus, a Roman amphitheatre built by the Emperor Augustus and incorporated into a sixteenth-century palazzo by Baldassare Peruzzi (1481–1536).1 Turner has depicted the monument face-on, recording the ascending orders of architecture on the curved outer wall. The lower arches of the theatre were formerly used to house shops and market stalls and the artist has included a group of figures and piles of goods in the foreground. The blend of daily street life against the backdrop of ancient and Renaissance architecture made the theatre a quintessential Roman subject for topographical artists seeking the picturesque. Other views include Piranesi’s Teatro di Marcello for the Vedute di Roma (c.1749) and Luigi Rossini’s Avenzi del Teatro di Marcello Situato in Piazza Montanara from Le Antichita Romane (1821).2
Another partial view of the edifice can be seen on folio 50 (D16243; Turner Bequest CLXXXVIII 49).

Nicola Moorby
September 2008

Frank Sear, Roman Theatres: An Architectural Study, Oxford 2006, p.63.
Luigi Ficacci, Piranesi: The Complete Etchings, Köln and London 2000, no.895, reproduced p.699; see also P. Fidenzoni, Il Teatro di Marcello, Rome 1970, pp.16–17, figs 1–4.

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