Joseph Mallord William Turner

The Via Tecta beneath the Santuario di Ercole Vincitore, Tivoli

1819

In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Artist
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Medium
Graphite on paper
Dimensions
Support: 200 × 253 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Reference
D15476
Turner Bequest CLXXXIII 10

Catalogue entry

Previously titled The Dark Arches by John Ruskin, the subject of this drawing is the Via Tecta, a gallery or tunnel built beneath the ruins of the Santuario di Ercole Vincitore (Sanctuary of Hercules Victor) in Tivoli. Formerly known as the Villa of Maecenas, the Santuario is in fact a large temple complex dating from the first century BC, dedicated to the cult of Hercules. The Via Tecta carried the ancient Roman road, the Via Tiburtina, beneath the substructures of the Santuario and was originally used for herding and selling livestock.1 Part of it is still extant, although the surviving remnants of the temple have been much altered by industrial use of the site between the seventeenth and twentieth centuries.2 Turner’s view looks along the passageway towards the daylight at the end. Visible in the vaults of the ceiling are two openings, designed to let in light and air.3 Visual precedents for the subject include etchings by Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720–1778) for the Veduta di Roma,4 and a watercolour by Louis Ducros (1748–1810), The Stables of the Villa of Maecenas at Tivoli (Stourhead, The Hoare Collection, The National Trust).5 Turner could have seen views by both artists in the collection of his early patron, Sir Richard Colt Hoare of Stourhead.
Like many drawings within this sketchbook, the composition has been executed over a washed grey background and Turner has effectively exploited the tonal properties of the paper to create an atmospheric study. He has created highlights by rubbing or lifting out the wash to reveal the white paper beneath, principally to depict the daylight at the end of the tunnel, and the square ceiling openings illuminating the interior. He has further enhanced the dramatic chiaroscuro by describing areas of deep shadow with vigorous hatching with soft, dark pencil. Related studies can be found on folios 9 and 20 (D15475 and D15486). Turner also made a large number of sketches of the exterior of the Santuario, see folio 5 (D15471).
1
See Barbro Santillo Frizell and Jonathan Westin, ‘Displaying Via Tecta: visualisation and communication’, in Hans Bjur and Barbro Santillo Frizell (eds.), Via Tiburtina: Space, Movement and Artefacts in the Urban Landscape, Stockholm 2009, pp.[219–21].
2
See Anna Maria Reggiani, Tivoli: Il Santuario di Ercole Vincitore, Milan 1998, figs.15 and 24, ‘Ingresso attuale della via tecta, frutto della risistemazione tardo-ottocentesca a cura della “Societa per le Forze Idrauliche e gli Usi Industriali e Agricoli’.
3
Compare a present-day photograph in Frizell and Westin 2009, fig.2, p.[220].
4
Veduta interna della Villa di Mecenate and Altra veduta interna della Villa di Mecenate in Tivoli, see Luigi Ficacci, Piranesi: The Complete Etchings, Köln and London 2000, nos.944 and 955, reproduced pp.726 and 732.
5
See Pierre Chessex, Lindsay Stainton, Luc Boissanas et al, Images of the Grand Tour: Louis Ducros 1748–1810, exhibition catalogue, Iveagh Bequest, Kenwood 1985, no.69, and David Solkin (ed.), Turner and the Masters, exhibition catalogue, Tate Britain, London 2009, no.5, reproduced in colour.
Verso:
Blank, except for traces of grey watercolour wash
Inscribed by ?John Ruskin in red ink ‘348’ bottom left

Nicola Moorby
February 2010

Read full Catalogue entry

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