Joseph Mallord William Turner

The Trevi Fountain, 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 26

Catalogue entry

This sketch depicts a view of the famous Fontana di Trevi (Trevi Fountain), a large Baroque fountain built 1732–62 near the Quirinal Palace in Rome. Turner’s sketch takes an oblique angle to the west of the fountain looking across the basin. In the background to the right is the elaborate Baroque façade of the Church of Santi Vincenzo e Anastasio, built by Martino Longhi in 1650. The artist has partially recorded the commemorative inscription running in gold letters across the frieze near the top of the structure: ‘PERFECIT BENEDICTVS XIV PON. MAX.’ [Completed by Pope Benedictus XIV]. Cecilia Powell has noted the close similarity of this composition to Piranesi’s treatment of the same subject in the engraved series Veduta di Roma, (1748–78).1
Described by Turner’s friend, Samuel Rogers, as a ‘magnificent profusion of marble & water’, the Trevi Fountain was designed by Nicola Salvi (1697–1751) and completed in 1762.2 Based upon the format of a triumphal arch the design incorporated the fountain into the backdrop of the adjoining Palazzo Poli. Various sculptors added figures and decorative elements including the central group by Pietro Bacci (1700–1773) which shows Neptune in a shell chariot drawn by horses and tritons. Although it is today one of the most popular tourist spots in Rome, during the early nineteenth century the prevailing taste was for neoclassical architecture, and the theatrical decoration of the fountain was often perceived to be overly dramatic and excessive. The author Joseph Forsyth, for example, described it as ‘another pompous confusion of fable and fact, gods and ediles, aqueducts and sea-monsters’.3 Turner’s interest in this, and other Baroque monuments within the city, was therefore relatively unusual.4 One explanation, however, might be that he seems actually to have stayed at the Palazzo Poli during his sojourn in Rome. The palace was an established residence for artists during the period and a letter written by Turner on Saturday 27 November 1819 to the Italian sculptor, Antonio Canova, documents it as his address.5 Hardy George has suggested that this accommodation may have been arranged by Turner’s friend and fellow Royal Academician, the portrait painter Sir Thomas Lawrence (1769–1830).6 Lawrence was in Rome between May 1819 and January 1820, living at the Palazzo del Quirinale, and his role as an official envoy of the Prince Regent meant that he was well placed to introduce and assist Turner upon his arrival in the city.

Nicola Moorby
September 2008

Powell 1987, pp.38–40; see Luigi Ficacci, Piranesi: The Complete Etchings, Köln and London 2000, no.883, reproduced p.691.
J.R. Hale (ed.), The Italian Journal of Samuel Rogers, London 1956, p.211.
Joseph Forsyth, Remarks on Antiquities, Arts, and Letters During an Excursion in Italy, in the Years 1802 and 1803, 2nd edition, London 1816, quoted in George 1996, pp.31–2 note 11.
Ibid., and Powell 1987, p.37.
Powell 1987, p.202 note 4 and Bailey 1997, p.244.
George 1996, p.28.

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