Turner sketched this 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. In the middle distance on the left is one of Tivoli’s most famous landmarks, the silhouette of the so-called Temple of Vesta, a circular structure dating from the first century BC, perched on the edge of the steep gorge. Immediately adjacent is the so-called Temple of the Sibyl, a rectangular ruin which until the end of the nineteenth century was incorporated within the Church of San Giorgio. On the right-hand side of the composition is the river valley to the north of Tivoli with the course of the River Aniene winding west towards Rome. On the opposite slopes of the gorge can be seen the convent of San Antonio, also known as the Villa d’Orazio (Villa of Horace), described by Thomas Ashby as a ‘low, straggling white’ building.1
Turner made several sketches from this viewpoint, see folios 18, 22, 33, 34, 35, 78, 80 (D15484, D15488, D15500, D15501, D15502, D15550, D15552), as well as the Tivoli and Rome sketchbook (Tate D15000–D15005 and D15092; Turner Bequest 40–42 verso and 86a) and 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 an early oil painting, Tivoli and the Roman Campagna circa 1798 (Tate, N05512),2 which was itself based upon a version of a picture by the eighteenth-century Welsh artist, Richard Wilson (1713–1782), for example, Temple of the Sibyl and the Roman Campagna circa 1765–70 (Tate, T01706).
Like many drawings within this sketchbook, the composition has been executed over a washed grey background. Turner has created highlights within the work by scratching, rubbing or lifting out the wash to reveal the white paper beneath, principally to create the lightness of the sky above the horizon. Freely drawn looping lines have been used to describe the wooded, rocky landscape, whilst areas of shadow have been indicated with vigorous hatching and shading. In the bottom left-hand corner there is a small figurative group, including a donkey or pony laden with sacks.