The subject of this sketch is the view looking south-east from Santa Balbina on the Aventine Hill. In the centre are the Baths of Caracalla, the remains of a large complex of ‘thermae’, or public baths, dating from 206 AD.1 Visible between a gap in the ruins are the two towers of the Porta San Sebastiano, the gate which leads from the Aurelian Walls to the Via Appia. The churches in the middle distance to the left of the Baths are San Sisto Vecchio (left), Santi Nereo e Achilleo (right), and San Giovanni a Porta Latina (further back right), and on the far left-hand side is the Basilica of San Giovanni in Laterano. Stretching into the distant Campagna is the long line of the ruined Aqua Claudia (Claudian Aqueduct). Turner has used naturalistic touches of red chalk to indicate the colour of the Roman brickwork.
The composition is very similar to one drawn by James Hakewill in 1817, Rome. Ruins of the Baths of Caracalla from the Convent of Sa. Balbina, (British School at Rome Library), which Turner would almost certainly have known from his work on Hakewill’s Picturesque Tour, just prior to his 1819 trip to Rome.2 A similar view from the Palatine Hill can be found on another page from this sketchbook (see Tate D16334; Turner Bequest CLXXXIX 8).