Joseph Mallord William Turner

Three Sketches of the River Tiber, Rome, including the Porto di Ripa Grande and the Aventine Hill, and the Pyramid of Cestius


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 a

Catalogue entry

There are three separate sketches on this page which appear to show different aspects of the River Tiber from the same location. Similar sets of view looking respectively north, east and south from a similar viewpoint can be found on folios 49 verso and 58 (D16242 and D16259; Turner Bequest CLXXXVIII 48a and 57).
The largest drawing at the top depicts the view looking upstream towards the Porto di Ripa Grande on the left and the Aventine Hill on the right. The sketch is drawn from the south-west at a point where the river bends sharply to the east, near present-day Ponte Testaccio. Cargo shipping can be seen docked in front of the customs house of the Ripa Grande, the busiest and most important port in Rome whilst the tall slender column in front is a lighthouse, constructed on the orders of Pope Pius VII in about 1814–15.1 Much of the Ripa Grande port, including the lighthouse, was destroyed during the 1880s to make way for the modern walls and embankment flood defences. Beyond the port is the long façade of the Ospizio di San Micheli (Hospital of St. Michael) whilst in the distant centre it is just possible to see the circular Temple of Hercules the Victor near the Ponte Rotto and the tower of the Palazzo Senatorio on the Capitoline Hill. On the right on the higher ground of Mount Aventine are the towers of Santa Maria del Priorato and Sant’Alessio all’Aventino (today known as Santi Boniface e Alessio). A more detailed view of the Ripa Grande can be seen on folio 54 verso (D16258; Turner Bequest CLXXXVIII 56a).
The sketch in the bottom left-hand corner is drawn from the same position but shows the view on the opposite bank of the river with the Pyramid of Cestius and the Aurelian walls, see folio 57 (D16253; Turner Bequest CLXXXVIII 54). Thomas Ashby identified the remaining sketch in the bottom right-hand corner as a sketch of the Aventine looking upstream from Pietra Papa.2 The drawing continues in the bottom left-hand corner of the opposite sheet of the double-page spread, see folio 58 (D16242; Turner Bequest CLXXXVIII 57).

Nicola Moorby
September 2008

Jeremiah Donovan, Rome, Ancient and Modern, and its Environs, Oxford 1843. vol.3, p.1019.
Thomas Ashby, unpublished notes, Turner Bequest Archive, Tate.
Powell 1984, p.121.
Ibid., p.475 note 30.

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