Joseph Mallord William Turner

Two Sketches in Rome: Porta San Sebastiano and the Aurelian Walls; and the Via Appia Antica


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 46

Catalogue entry

This page contains two inverted sketches, one of which is slightly superimposed upon the other. The upper view depicts the line of the Aurelian Walls, punctuated at regular intervals by square towers, with the two crenellated turrets of the Porta San Sebastiano on the right. This gate can be found at the southern tip of the historic city and marks the beginning of the Via Appia, the road which leads from Rome to south-east Italy and which Turner has indicated in his inscription as the subject of the second sketch beneath. The straight, receding lines and large irregular structures on either side of the road identify this drawing as depicting the Via Appia Antica, the ancient Roman thoroughfare lined with tombs and catacombs which run in parallel with the Via Appia Nuova, a modern road built in the eighteenth century. The tombs and monuments of the Via Appia Antica were famously and imaginatively portrayed by Giovanni Battista Piranesi in frontispiece to volume II of Le antichità romane.1
Turner would have seen these views at the beginning of his trip to Naples and the Alban Hills, or conversely, at the end of the return journey on his way back to Rome. However, the group of sketches on the next few pages suggests that he also made a separate excursion, following the Via Appia Antica on foot only as far as the Tomb of Cecilia Metella, approximately two miles outside of the Aurelian Walls, see folios 47–49 (D15384–D15389).

Nicola Moorby
May 2008

See Luigi Ficacci, Piranesi: The Complete Etchings, Köln and London 2000, no.216, p.215.

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