Joseph Mallord William Turner

View of the Forum, Rome, with the Capitol and San Lorenzo in Miranda


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Gouache, graphite and watercolour on paper
Support: 232 × 369 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CLXXXIX 25

Catalogue entry

This sketch depicts a view of the north-west end of the Roman Forum. Turner’s viewpoint is a position just to the left of Temple of Romulus and Santa Cosma e Damiano looking towards the Capitoline Hill. Rising above the trees in the background is the bell-tower of the Palazzo Senatorio on the Capitol, whilst half hidden amongst the trees beneath it is the Arch of Septimius Severus. To the left in the middle distance are the three columns of the Temple of Castor and Pollux, and dominating the right-hand side of the vista is the Church of San Lorenzo in Miranda, a seventeenth-century Baroque building which incorporates the classical portico of the Temple of Antoninus and Faustina. This ruined 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. Like many drawings within this sketchbook, the composition has been executed over a washed grey background. Turner has made effective use of tonal contrast with dark areas of soft or cross hatched pencil and pale highlights created with gouache or by scratching through to the white paper beneath..
As Cecilia Powell has pointed out,1 the sketch relates to part of the finished oil painting, Forum Romanum, for Mr Soane’s Museum exhibited 1826 (Tate, N00504).2 As the title suggests, the work was originally intended for the gallery of Turner’s friend, the architect Sir John Soane (1753–1837), although the commission was never in fact accepted. The composition was based upon an amalgam of several sketches from Turner’s 1819 sojourn in Rome and this sketchbook page appears to have informed the depiction of the buildings visible in the background between the Arch of Titus and the Basilica of Constantine. A similar view can also be found in the Small Roman C. Studies sketchbook (see Tate D16453; Turner Bequest CXC 39a). A further detail which may pertain to the painting is the small group of figures including a cross bearer entering the doorway of the Church of Santa Cosma e Damiano in the right-hand foreground. This may have inspired Turner to incorporate the religious procession in Forum Romanum, leading the eye of the viewer across the middle distance towards the same church in the background.
Powell 1984, p.255 and Powell 1987, p.122.
Butlin and Joll 1984, no.233.

Nicola Moorby
July 2009

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