Joseph Mallord William Turner

View of Rome with a Rainbow, from the Gardens of the Villa Barberini


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite, watercolour and watercolour wash on paper
Support: 232 × 370 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CLXXXIX 1

Catalogue entry

Turner’s location for this view of Rome was the Villa Barberini (also known as the Villa Barberini al Gianicolo), a small Baroque casino situated north of the Janiculum Hill, to the immediate south of St Peter’s and the Vatican. Originally owned by Taddeo Barberini, nephew of Pope Urban VIII, the building was largely destroyed during the siege of Rome in 1849,1 but its appearance is partially recorded in an eighteenth-century engraving by Giuseppe Vasi (1710–1782).2 Two small pavilions, the Casino della Palma, and the Palazetto Vercelli survived and are today part of a larger complex owned by the Jesuits and the Collegio di Propoganda Fide.
During the nineteenth century, the Villa Barberini was set within terraced gardens which offered spectacular views across the city. This sketch of the easterly prospect depicts the River Tiber at a point where it curves in front of St Peter’s. The viewer therefore looks simultaneously upstream (or left) towards the Ponte Sant’Angelo and downstream (right) towards the Ponte Sisto. In the foreground are architectural features of the Villa Barberini gardens and in the centre is the Baroque façade of the Casino itself, designed by Giovanni Battista Contini. In the background, Turner has loosely recorded the topography of the city which encompasses a sweep of approximately ninety degrees from the Castel Sant’Angelo on the left, to the Janiculum Hill and the silhouette of San Pietro in Montorio on the right. Several other panoramic studies from the Villa Barberini can be found within this sketchbook (see D16329, D16333, D16347, D16358, D16361, D16374; Turner Bequest CLXXXIX 3, 7, 21, 32, 34, 45a) and there is also a single related sketch in the Albano, Nemi, Rome sketchbook (see Tate D15368; Turner Bequest CLXXXII 39).
Like many drawings within the Rome C. Studies sketchbook, the composition has been executed in pencil over a washed grey background and the artist has added a small amount of watercolour to partially colour the line of the horizon. The use of blue for the distant mountains beyond recalls the effects of aerial perspective which characterise the paintings of the seventeenth-century master Claude Lorrain (circa 1600–1682). In addition to recording the towers and roofs of the city Turner has also introduced a naturalistic sense of atmospheric conditions. He has used liquid paint and energetic, free brushwork to describe the blustery clouds and rainbow within the sky on the left.
Anthony Blunt, Guide to Baroque Rome, London, Toronto, Sydney and New York 1982, p.210.
See, accessed July 2009.

Nicola Moorby
July 2009

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