The so-called Temple of Vesta is an ancient circular edifice dating from the first century BC which stands on the brink of the gorge at the northern edge of Tivoli. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries it represented an important site for the study of classical architecture and was one of the most popular motifs for artists visiting Italy. This sketch depicts a view from inside the semi-circle of surviving columns, looking south over the town. Visible in the background is the Ponte San Rocco above the former falling point of the ‘Grand Cascade’ of the River Aniene, and the campanile of the Church of Santa Maria del Ponte, compare folio 27 (D15494). At the bottom of the page are annotations and diagrams relating to the proportions of the temple, although Turner has erroneously indicated eleven extant columns, instead of ten.1 Further notes on the dimensions can be found in the Tivoli and Rome sketchbook (see Tate D40925 and D15048; Turner Bequest inside front cover and CLXXIX 65).
Despite the fact that Palladio had labelled it as ‘Vesta’ in his I Quattoro Libri dell’Architettura (1570),2 the temple has also been frequently known in the past as the Temple of the Sibyl. Confusingly, the adjacent rectangular-shaped building formerly dedicated as a church to St George, is also known as the so-called Temple of the Sibyl. With reference to Turner’s drawings, Finberg and other scholars intermittently employed both titles, but these have now been regularised throughout using the accepted name, the ‘so-called Temple of Vesta’. However, the attributions still remain a matter for conjecture and may change again in the future.
Like many celebrated classical ruins the appearance of the Temple of Vesta was already well known to Turner before he ever set foot in Italy. Not only was it the most recognisable monument synonymous with Tivoli, but it was also the best preserved example of a circular, peripteral structure and an important reference source for the Corinthian order of architecture. Following George Dance the Younger’s (1741–1825) full measured survey during the early 1760s, the temple had become a popular source of inspiration for British architects and it also became common for English designers to incorporate features inspired by the ruin within landscaped gardens. Brocklesby Mausoleum, for example, had been built in 1792 by James Wyatt to commemorate the wife of one of Turner’s patrons, Baron Yarborough, and the artist made several studies of the structure in 1798, see for example the Brocklesby Mausoleum sketchbook (Tate; Turner Bequest LXXXIII), and two watercolours (Tate D08277; Turner Bequest CXXI U, and Tate D17101; Turner Bequest CXXV 130). Turner’s great friend, the architect John Soane (1753–1857) was greatly influenced by the temple, notably in his ‘Tivoli’ corner for the Bank of England.3 Soane owned copies of Dance’s illustrations and frequently referred to the site in his Royal Academy lectures (1809–1837). As an amateur architect and the Royal Academy’s Professor of Perspective, Turner’s interest in classical buildings extended beyond pure aesthetics and it is likely that he would have been familiar with the measured drawings and plans by his fellow Academicians.
For details and contemporaneous diagrams of the Temple see Margaret Richardson, ‘John Soane and the Temple of Vesta at Tivoli’, Architectural History, vol.46, 2003, pp.127–32
Andrew Lumisden, Remarks on the Antiquities of Rome and Its Environs, London 1812, p.418.
Richardson 2003, pp.127–146.
William Chubb, ‘Turner’s “Cicero at his Villa” ’, Burlington Magazine, vol.123, July 1981, p.417 note 1.
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