Joseph Mallord William Turner

The Via Appia Antica, Rome: the Circus of Maxentius; and Two Views Approaching the Tomb of Cecilia Metella


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 113 × 189 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CLXXXII 47

Catalogue entry

Turner made a number of sketches of the Via Appia Antica, the ancient Roman thoroughfare from Rome to Brindisi in south-east Italy. Known as ‘the Queen of Roads’, the Appian Way was famous for its characteristic straightness and the numerous tombs and catacombs lining the route. This page records two such landmarks, both situated approximately two miles outside of the city: above, the Circus of Maxentius; beneath, two views of the Tomb of Cecilia Metella.
When Turner saw the Circus of Maxentius in 1819 he would have known it by its previous name, the Circus of Caracalla, so called owing to a statue of that Emperor found nearby. Hence his inscription next to the drawing of ‘The Consolo Caracalla’. Excavation of the site in 1825, however, uncovered a Latin dedication which revealed its connection to the Emperor Maxentius and his son Romulus.1 The ruined complex dates from the fourth century and comprises an imperial villa, a mausoleum and a large arena for racing and other games.2 Turner’s sketch shows the circular towers at the ‘oppidum’, the west end of the circus, as seen from the Appian Way. In between these towers were the ‘carceres’, the starting gates for horses and chariots, whilst around the remaining three sides was arranged the graduated seating for up to 10,000 spectators. The drawing is interrupted by a faint vertical line delineating the division between the two sketches below and suggests that Turner drew this scene after the ones beneath, looking back down the Via Appia towards the direction of Rome.
Three hundred yards further from the Circus lies the Tomb of Cecilia (or Cæcilia) Metella, a large circular mausoleum and one of Rome’s most celebrated ancient monuments. The tomb of travertine marble was built to hold the ashes of a Roman noblewoman, the daughter of a consul and wife to the son of Crassus. Later, in the Middle Ages, it was incorporated into the fortress of the Caetani family, the remains of which can still be seen on the south-east corner of the tower. Turner copied an image of the tomb in the Italian Guide Book sketchbook, after John ‘Warwick’ Smith’ (see Tate D13966; Turner Bequest CLXXII 19).

Nicola Moorby
May 2008

Octavian Blewitt, A Hand-book for Travellers in Central Italy Including the Papal States, Rome and the City of Etruria, London 1850, p.343.
See for example the drawing by Richard Wilson, Circus of Caracalla, (Tate, T09296).
Engraved by Edward Finden for Landscape Illustrations ... of Lord Byron, 1833–4, see W[illiam] G[eorge] Rawlinson, The Engraved Work of J.M.W. Turner, R.A., London 1913, vol.II, no.410.
Tony Cubberley and Luke Herrmann, Twilight of the Grand Tour: A Catalogue of the drawings by James Hakewill in the British School at Rome Library, Rome 1992, no.3.38 p.219, reproduced.
Rome, Tomb of Cecilia Metella 1818, watercolour (private collection), see Andrew Wilton, The Life and Work of J.M.W. Turner, Fribourg 1979, no.709, based upon Hakewill’s drawing, Cubberley and Herrmann 1992, no.3.27, p.208, reproduced. Engraved for Hakewill’s Italy, see Rawlinson 1908, vol.I, no.153.

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