Joseph Mallord William Turner

View of Rome from Tasso’s Oak on the Janiculum Hill

1819

In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Artist
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Medium
Graphite on paper
Dimensions
Support: 229 × 368 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Reference
D16378
Turner Bequest CLXXXIX 49

Catalogue entry

In common with many eighteenth- and nineteenth-century visitors to Rome, part of Turner’s exploration of the city included the panoramic views seen from certain elevated vantage points. One of the most famous of these was the Janiculum Hill (or Gianicolo), a ridge of high ground to the west of the River Tiber which offered sweeping vistas across the historical centre of the capital. The most celebrated vista was that seen from the terrace or loggia of the Villa Lante in the centre of the hill. Turner’s viewpoint here, however, is further towards the northern tip from a tree known as ‘Tasso’s oak, a fabled Roman landmark associated with the sixteenth-century poet, Torquato Tasso (1544–1595). According to legend, Tasso spent the final year of his life waiting here for official recognition for his works from the Pope and died in the nearby convent of Sant’Onofrio where his tomb now lies. His oak survived until the early twentieth century when it was struck by lightening.1 The remnants can still be seen today, held upright by concrete and metal scaffolding. Turner made a large sequence of drawings related to this location in the Albano, Nemi, Rome sketchbook (Tate D15369–70; Turner Bequest CLXXXII 39a–40), the St Peter’s sketchbook (Tate D16158–65; Turner Bequest CLXXXVIII 2–5) and the Small Roman C. Studies sketchbook (Tate D16446–7; Turner Bequest CXC 34a–35).
The view depicted in the drawing looks north from Tasso’s oak towards St Peter’s on the left and the Castel Sant’Angelo in the centre. The church with the dome in the foreground to the right is San Giovanni dei Fiorentini, on the banks of the River Tiber, and visible in the far distance is the Villa Medici and the grounds of the Borghese Gardens. The architectural feature in the central foreground is a decorative tablet or fountain in the Teatro Alla Quercia del Tasso, a small open-air theatre, also visible in another sketch (see Tate D16165; Turner Bequest CLXXXVIII 5). Like many pages within this book, the drawing has been executed over a washed grey background and Turner has created areas of pale highlights by rubbing through to the white paper beneath.

Nicola Moorby
July 2009

1
See a stereoscopic photograph dated 1906, Rome in Stereoscopia, 1855–1908, exhibition catalogue, Biblioteca vallicelliana, Museo nazionale del Palazzo di Venezia, Rome 1994, p.124.
2
Andrew Wilton, The Life and Work of J.M.W. Turner, Fribourg 1979, no.720, as ‘Rome, from the Pincian Hill’. First identified with correct title by David Hill in Turner in Yorkshire, exhibition catalogue, York City Art Gallery, York 1980, no.97, p.64. Reproduced in colour in The Courtauld Collection, exhibition catalogue, Wordsworth Trust, Grasmere 2008, no.16.

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