Joseph Mallord William Turner

View of Castel Sant’Angelo, Rome, from the Vatican


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

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Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite and watercolour on paper
Support: 231 × 369 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CLXXXIX 10

Catalogue entry

This sketch depicts a view of the Castel Sant’Angelo, a famous circular fortress which stands on the banks of the Tiber near St Peter’s and the Vatican in Rome. The vast size, striking shape and prominent location of the castle have made it one of the city’s most prominent landmarks. Originally the mausoleum of the Emperor Hadrian, the cylindrical building dates from AD 139 but was later converted from a tomb to a fortress, acting as part of the military defences of the city until the end of the nineteenth century. The name derives from a legendary vision of the Archangel Michael who reportedly appeared above the building sheathing his sword as a symbol of the end of a great plague in AD 590. Since 1753, a massive bronze statue of the angel by the Flemish sculptor Peter Anton Verschaeffelt (1710–1793) has crowned the top, replacing an earlier one in marble by Raffaelo da Montelupo (circa 1504–circa 1566).
Turner’s sketch depicts the Castel Sant’Angelo from the north-west looking towards the Porta Angelica in the centre. Thomas Ashby identified the artist’s viewpoint as the bastion constructed by Michelangelo which protected the Belvedere of the Vatican.1 On the far right-hand side of the composition is part of the Papal Palace, whilst to the right of the Castel Sant’Angelo can be seen Santa Maria delle Grazie, a seventeenth-century church which was demolished during the early twentieth century to make way for the Piazza del Risorgimento and the new walls of the Vatican City State.2 The open fields with grazing cattle on the left are the Prati di Castello (Meadows of the Castle). Today this area is entirely built up and the vista transformed. A similar view showing the road leading to the Porta Angelica can be seen in a painting by Giovanni Paolo Panini (1691–1765), Veduta di Roma da Nord-Ouest (Staatliche Museen Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Gemäldegalerie, Berlin).3 Like many studies within this sketchbook, the composition has been executed in pencil over a grey washed ground, although in this instance the paper has suffered from fading and discolouration
Ashby 1914, p.104.
See an engraved view by Giuseppe Vasi, Chiesa di S. Maria delle Grazie 1756, reproduced at, accessed October 2009.
Reproduced in colour in Cesare de Seta, L’Italia del Grand Tour da Montaigne a Goethe, Naples 1996, pp.134–5.

Nicola Moorby
October 2009

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