Joseph Mallord William Turner

View of the Forum, Rome, with a Rainbow


Not on display

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite, watercolour and gouache on paper
Support: 230 × 367 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CLXXXIX 46

Display caption

Turner's first visit to Rome in 1819 produced a series of drawings in both pencil and monochrome media, and in full and resonant colour. The drawings provided a survey of the architectural splendours and historic sites of the city. They included both objective and careful studies, and profoundly atmospheric interpretations such as this. The rainbow seems to echo the sense of renewal observed by all Romantic travellers in the Eternal City, and is exemplified here by the Baroque church façade among the ruins of antiquity.

Gallery label, September 2004

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Catalogue entry

The subject of this coloured study is a view of the Roman Forum, the heart of political, commercial and judicial life in ancient Rome. The central focus of the composition is the remains of the Temple of Castor and Pollux, a building dating from the fifth century BC of which only three Corinthian columns and a surmounting section of entablature from the first century AD survive. The prominent edifice beyond is the portico of the Temple of Antoninus and Faustina with the façade of San Lorenzo in Miranda rising above it. This Roman temple was first dedicated to Faustina, the wife of Emperor Antoninus Pius in the second century AD but was later converted into a church following the belief that St Lawrence had been condemned to death there. During the seventeenth century, the antique remains were incorporated within a newly designed Baroque exterior. Also partially visible to the right is part of the adjacent Church of Santi Cosama e Damiano with the cupola of the Temple of Romulus and the massive barrel arched vaults of the Basilica of Constantine. On the far left-hand side is the Torre dei Milize, and on the far right, the Church of Santa Maria Liberatrice, which was demolished at the beginning of the twentieth century during excavation of the Forum. Like many drawings within the Rome C. Studies sketchbook, the composition has been executed over a washed grey background. Turner first sketched a rough pencil outline before more fully developing the view in watercolour and gouache applied with great vigour and energy, particularly to describe the foreground vegetation. Andrew Wilton has suggested that the striking effect of dark ochre and grey masonry against the intensely blue sky recalls the work of contemporary Italian vedute artists, such as Carlo Labruzzi (1748–1817), Antonio Zucchi (1726–1795) and Charles-Louis Clérisseau (1721–1820).1
During his 1819 sojourn in Rome, Turner made a thorough study of the buildings and monuments of the Forum from a host of different angles. The Rome: C. Studies sketchbook contains a number of detailed compositions, principally featuring views of the eastern end with the Colosseum, and the Arches of Constantine and Titus (see D16351, D16354, D16355, D16365, D16367, D16370, D16372, D16376, D16379, D16389; Turner Bequest CLXXXIX 25, 28, 29, 38, 40, 43, 44, 47, 50, 58). Pencil sketches related to this watercolour can found within the Albano, Nemi, Rome sketchbook (see Tate D15395–D15396; Turner Bequest CLXXXII 52–52a). The design is also similar to the view by John ‘Warwick’ Smith, Campo Vaccino from Select Views in Italy, copied by Turner in the Italian Guide Book sketchbook (see Tate D13966; Turner Bequest CLXXII 19, second from top right).
Wilton 1979, p.143.
Blayney Brown 1992, p.128 and Liversidge and Edwards 1996, pp.76–7.

Nicola Moorby
October 2009

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