Joseph Mallord William Turner

View of Tivoli at Sunset, with the So-Called Temples of Vesta and the Sibyl


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 112 × 186 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CLXXIX 42

Catalogue entry

Turner sketched this distant view of Tivoli from a point on the present-day Via Quintilio Varo, on the lower slopes of Monte Catillo to the north-east of the town. Visible in the centre of the composition are the silhouettes of the so-called Temple of Vesta and Temple of the Sibyl, perched on the edge of the steep gorge, whilst to the left is the campanile of the Cathedral (Duomo) of San Lorenzo. The hasty character of the lines and the areas of hatched shading suggest that the artist was sketching at the end of the day when the light was failing and parts of the landscape were cast into deep shadow. The sketch is continued on the opposite sheet of the double-page spread, see folio 41 verso (D15003). Turner made several sketches from this viewpoint, see folios 40–42 verso and 87 verso (D15000–D15005 and D15092), the Tivoli sketchbook (Tate D15468, D15488, D15500–D15502; Turner Bequest CLXXXIII 2, 22, 33–5), and in the Naples: Rome C. Studies sketchbook (Tate D16116 and D16118; Turner Bequest CLXXXVII 28 and 30). He also repeated the vista during his 1828 visit to Tivoli, see the Roman and French sketchbook (Tate D21912; Turner Bequest CCXXXVII 35a). The composition is similar to that of Turner’s early oil painting, Tivoli and the Roman Campagna circa 1798 (Tate, N05512),1 which was itself based upon a version of a picture by the eighteenth-cntury Welsh artist, Richard Wilson (1713–1782), for example, Temple of the Sibyl and the Roman Campagna circa 1765–70 (Tate, T01706).
The picturesque spectacle of the ancient temple seen in its dramatic natural setting against the contre-jour of sunset, seems to have fitted Turner’s preconceived ideas about the artistic representation of Tivoli. In the bottom left-hand corner he has invoked the name of the seventeenth French master, Claude Lorrain (circa 1604/5–1682), the artist whose idealised representations of the Roman Campagna represented the greatest influence on Turner’s understanding of Italianate landscape. This sketch assumes the same vantage point as that of Claude’s drawing View of Tivoli circa 1640–1 (British Museum), an engraving of which appeared in Richard Earlom-Boydell’s third volume of the Liber Veritatis in 1819, the year Turner set out on his Italian travels.2 Inscriptions on other pages of this sketchbook reveal that Turner also associated Tivoli with the work of Wilson and Gaspard Dughet (1615–1675), see folios 41 and 56 (D15002 and D15030).

Nicola Moorby
February 2010

Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, no.44.
Reproduced in Warrell 2002, no.42, pp.96 and 191.
Ibid., pp.95 and 191 under no.41.

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