Joseph Mallord William Turner

View of Tivoli from the Valley, with the Santuario di Ercole Vincitore


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 200 × 253 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CLXXXIII 16

Catalogue entry

Turner’s exploration of Tivoli included a large number of landscape sketches drawn from the river valley to the north. He was particularly attracted by the spectacle of the town’s ancient ruins perched above the steep, wooded gorge and streaming waterfalls. This drawing depicts the ruins of the Santuario di Ercole Vincitore (Sanctuary of Hercules Victor), a large temple complex dating from the first century BC, seen from the opposite site of the gorge. The vista looks east, past the long arcades of the Santuario, towards the campanile of the Cathedral (Duomo) of San Lorenzo, the substructures supporting the Piazza dell’Olmo (present-day Piazza Domenico Tani) and a medieval watch-tower situated at the northern tip of the town. Visible above the right-hand side of the temple is the sixteenth-century garden and casino of the Villa d’Este, with its tall cypress trees. The left-hand side of the composition meanwhile is dominated by an olive grove, characteristic of the woods surrounding the town. Like many drawings within this sketchbook, the composition has been executed over a washed grey background. Turner has created highlights within the work by rubbing or lifting out the wash to reveal the white paper beneath, principally to depict the texture of the trees and the silvery streams of the falling cascatelli (or cascatelle), the lesser cascades emerging beneath the substructures of the temple. He has further enhanced the dramatic chiaroscuro by darkening the arcades beneath the Santuario with vigorous shading and hatched lines. Turner’s interest in the twisted, gnarled forms of the tree trunks clinging to the steep slopes, as well as the tonal study of light and shade, is reminiscent of watercolour landscapes by Francis Towne (1739–1816), for example, Rocks and Trees at Tivoli 1781 (Tate, T08552).1
Formerly known as the Villa of Maecenas, the Santuario di Ercole Vincitore was one of Tivoli’s most famous landmarks. Its picturesque qualities were described by Revd John Chetwode Eustace who, in A Classical Tour Through Italy, first published in 1813, recommended the view from the opposite side of the valley:
See Timothy Wilcox, Francis Towne, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1997, no.25, pp.72–4, reproduced in colour.
John Chetwode Eustace, A Classical Tour Through Italy, London 1815, 3rd edition, vol.II, pp.237–9.

Nicola Moorby
February 2010

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