This sketch depicts a view of Tivoli looking north towards the Ponte San Rocco, a wooden crossing erected upon the foundations of a previous stone structure swept away in a flood in 1808. Turner’s location is near Santa Maria del Ponte, a church at the eastern end of the bridge looking across to the proliferation of houses flanking the top of the opposite side of the gorge. Just visible on the spur of land beyond the bridge is the so-called Temple of Vesta, a circular ruin dating from the first century BC which stands on the edge of the gorge at the north-eastern edge of the town. Turner’s principal interest, however, is the streaming cascades of the River Aniene as it plunges down the steep, craggy sides of the gully at its former falling point. The drawing continues on the opposite sheet of the double-page spread, see folio 43 verso (D15007). Similar compositions can be found on folios 43, 63 verso–64 verso and 77 verso (D15006, D15045–D15047, D15072). Turner also recorded the view looking towards the bridge from the opposite direction, see folios 2 verso, 3 and 89 verso (D14936, D14937 and D15096), and in the Tivoli sketchbook (Tate D15494; Turner Bequest CLXXXIII 27).
The picturesque position of the Ponte San Rocco made it a popular subject for artists, and by the early nineteenth century it was a well-established topographical motif. The vista in Turner’s sketch is similar to that in paintings by Louis Ducros (1748–1810),1 and in an engraving by Luigi Rossini (1790–1857).2 However, it is no longer possible to find the same prospect in present-day Tivoli. A devastating flood in 1826 persuaded Pope Gregory XVI to divert the course of the river away from the residential district. Consequently, the town’s many waterfalls, including the Grand Cascade near to the Temple of Vesta, were replaced instead by the great waterfall in the Villa Gregoriana to the north-east of the town. Furthermore, the topography of the town was vastly altered and the wooden Ponte San Rocco was succeeded by the newly-built Ponte Gregoriano.
See Pierre Chessex, Lindsay Stainton, Luc Boissanas et al, Images of the Grand Tour: Louis Ducros 1748–1810, exhibition catalogue, Iveagh Bequest, Kenwood 1985, nos.18–20, reproduced.
Reproduced in Raymond Keaveney, Views of Rome from the Thomas Ashby Collection in the Vatican Library, exhibition catalogue, Smithsonian Institution, Washington 1988, p.256.