Joseph Mallord William Turner

Three Sketches of the Banks of the Tiber, Rome, with the Aurelian Walls and Monte Testaccio


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 54

Catalogue entry

Three views of the eastern bank of the Tiber in between the Aventine Hill and the Basilica of San Paolo fuori le mura. The drawings record a stretch of the Aurelian walls which ran from the Porta San Paolo to the Tiber and followed the bend in the river near Monte Testaccio. The line can be clearly seen in Giuseppe Vasi’s (1710–1782) panoramic engraving, Grand View of Rome 1765.1 Built 271–5 AD, the Aurelian walls enclosed the ancient city of Rome and its seven hills. During the early nineteenth century large sections punctuated by square towers could still be seen to the south of the Aventine. Rome-based historian Nicholas Stanley-Price has noted that the major part of the walls depicted by Turner survives today; only a stretch at the point where the walls meet the Tiber was demolished in the early twentieth century to make way for a railway line.2 The area is now a built-up industrial and residential district. The composition and details of the upper sketch, which includes the Pyramid of Cestius on the far right-hand side, bears close comparison to an etching of the same subject by Giuseppe Vasi, Veduta delle antiche Mura di Roma, from Book V of Sulle magnificenzia di Roma Antica e Moderna, 1754.3 The middle sketch meanwhile also includes the Pyramid and the adjacent Porta San Paolo in the central mid-distance, whilst on the right is Monte Testaccio, an artificial mound constructed from a Roman pottery dump.
A similar set of sketches can be found on folio 56 verso (D16252; Turner Bequest CLXXXVIII 53a). Furthermore, the same bend of the river can be seen from the other direction in the Rome and Florence sketchbook (see Tate D16494; Turner Bequest CXCI 6) and in a watercolour from the Naples: Rome C. Studies sketchbook (Tate D16131; Turner Bequest CLXXXVII 43). Turner had also painted a related subject before ever setting foot in Rome. His watercolour, Rome, from Monte Testaccio c.1818 (private collection) was based upon a drawing by James Hakewill and published in engraved form for Hakewill’s Picturesque Tour of Italy, 1819.4

Nicola Moorby
September 2008

Revised by Matthew Imms
July 2014

Reproduced Raymond Keaveney, Views of Rome from the Thomas Ashby Collection in the Vatican Library, exhibition catalogue, Smithsonian Institution, Washington 1988, inside back cover. See also, accessed September 2008.
Email from Nicholas Stanley-Price to Matthew Imms, 18 February 2014, received with grateful thanks.
See, accessed September 2008.
Andrew Wilton, The Life and Work of J.M.W. Turner, Fribourg 1979, no.707; W.G. Rawlinson, The Engraved Work of J.M.W. Turner, R.A., London 1908, vol.I, no.151. Hakewill’s drawing is not part of the collection in the British School at Rome and therefore it’s whereabouts is unknown. See 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, p.425.

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