Joseph Mallord William Turner

Trinità dei Monti and the Spanish Steps, Rome, from the Fountain in front of the Villa Medici


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite and watercolour on paper
Support: 233 × 369 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CLXXXIX 5

Catalogue entry

The subject of this sketch is the view from the Villa Medici on the Pincian Hill, looking south towards the Church of Trinità dei Monti and the Spanish Steps. The vista was frequently depicted by artists and had become one of the stock subjects in Italian topography, see for example, Alessandro Specchi’s engaving, Veduta della Trinità dei Monti, from Il Quarto Libro del Nuovo Teatro delli Palazzi in prospettiva di Roma Moderna, published in 1699,1 and John ‘Warwick’ Smith’s watercolour, The Church of SS. Trinità dei Monti ?1779 (British Museum).2 Similar or related views can be found on another page within this sketchbook (see D16340; Turner Bequest CLXXXIX 14), in the Vatican Fragments sketchbook (Tate D15242; Turner Bequest CLXXX 77a), the St Peter’s sketchbook (Tate D16308; Turner Bequest CLXXXVIII 82a), and in the Small Roman C. Studies sketchbook (Tate D16402; Turner Bequest CXC 6a).
Turner’s viewpoint for the composition is the fountain which stands in front of Villa Medici on present-day Viale della Trinità dei Monti, with Via di San Sebastianello descending on the right. Made in 1587 for Cardinal Ferdinand de’Medici, the so-called ‘cannon-ball’ fountain comprises a simple red granite basin on an octagonal base, at the centre of which is a marble ball, said to have been fired at the Villa Medici by Queen Christina of Sweden from the Castel Sant’Angelo in 1656.3 Turner has depicted two figures seated to the left of the fountain, and a third standing beyond it.
Like many drawings within this sketchbook, the composition has been executed over a washed grey background and Turner has created areas of pale highlights within the sky and horizon line by lifting or rubbing through to the white paper beneath.
Reproduced in Alberto Lombardo, Views of Villa Borghese, Villa Medici and Villa di Papa Giulio across the centuries, Rome 2003, p.51.
Reproduced in colour in Francis W. Hawcroft, Travels in Italy 1776–1783: Based on the “Memoirs” of Thomas Jones, exhibition catalogue, Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester 1988, no.35, pp.38–9.
Lombardo 2003, p.50.
?Blank (pasted to mount).

Nicola Moorby
October 2009

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