Joseph Mallord William Turner

Two Sketches in Rome: San Giorgio in Velabro and the Arch of Janus; and the Sculptures on the Arcus Argentariorum


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Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 189 × 113 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CLXXXII 45

Catalogue entry

The subject of the sketch on the top half of this page is the Arch of Janus in the Forum Boarium, with the adjacent bell-tower of San Giorgio in Velabro. Both buildings are located near the present-day Piazza del Bocca dell Verità, close to the Temples of Hercules the Victor and Portunus, which Turner also sketched, see folio 37 verso (D15365). The Arch of Janus is a fourth-century monument which owes its names to its quadrifons structure, the double facing arch and four identical fronts recalling the Roman two-faced God of gates and doors. According to Charlotte Eaton there were few ruins ‘more picturesque and venerable. Its niches are empty; its statues, its pillars, its sculptured monuments, are all destroyed; and wild weeds, thick matted bushes, and aged ivy, wave luxuriantly from its top, and cling to its grey walls.’1 In medieval times the arch formed the base of a tower fortress and Turner’s sketch of the northern face shows the remains of an entablature and attic at the top of the structure. By the time of his second visit to Rome in 1828, this layer had been removed since it was believed, probably erroneously, not to be part of the original arch.2
The details of sculptural reliefs on the bottom half of the page belong to the Arcus Argentariorum (Arch of the Money-Changers), an ancient monumental structure dedicated to the Emperor Septimius Severus by the merchants and money lenders of the Forum Boarium district. The arch is partially incorporated into the south-west corner at the front of San Giorgio in Velabro.3 Amongst the elements Turner has recorded is the decorative acanthus scroll detailing which runs vertically up the marble posts, two of the main figurative panel reliefs from the outer and inner faces, and some of the smaller sacrificial scenes underneath.
Cecilia Powell notes that this kind of indiscriminate sketching practice, combining different places or objects on the same page without adequate labelling of the individual components, might have led Turner to make mistakes in his use of the studies for oil compositions.4

Nicola Moorby
May 2008

Charlotte Anne Waldie Eaton, Rome in the Nineteenth Century, Edinburgh 1820, p.321.
Samuel Bell Platner, A Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome, ed. Thomas Ashby, London 1929, p.280.
Lawrence Richardson, A New Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome, Baltimore 1992, p.29.
Powell 1987, p.57.

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