J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner Ponte Molle, Rome 1819

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Folio 59 Recto:
Ponte Molle, Rome 1819
Turner Bequest CXC 67
Pencil and grey watercolour wash on white wove paper, 130 x 255 mm
Stamped in black ‘CXC 67’ top left, inverted
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
By the nineteenth century, exploration of the city’s environs had become as much part of the Roman experience as its architecture and monuments. Turner made a large number of studies of the landscape north of Rome and many of the views within this sketchbook appear to relate to a single perambulation from Sant’Agnese fuori le mura to Ponte Sant’Angelo (for further information see the sketchbook introduction). The subject of this sketch is the Ponte Molle, an ancient crossing also known as the Ponte Milvio which stands on a bend of the River Tiber to the north of the city. The bridge carried the Via Flaminia across the Tiber into the centre of the city and hence was the entry and exit point for British tourists during the nineteenth century. Famous as the site of the deciding battle between Emperors Constantine and Maxentius in 312 AD, the bridge is recognisable from the four central arches spanning the river with two smaller arches at both ends, and an entrance tower on the northern end (left) which had been rebuilt in 1805.1 This sketch depicts the Ponte Molle from the south-west, looking upstream towards the distant Sabine Mountains.
Turner’s forays into the Campagna in 1819 followed the tradition established during the seventeenth century by Claude Lorrain (circa 1600–82) and Nicolas Poussin (1594–1665). The two French masters had famously made a number of sketching trips along the banks of the Tiber north of the city; indeed the countryside between the Porta del Popolo and the Ponte Molle had popularly become known as the ‘Promenade de Poussin’. Following their lead, the Ponte Molle was one of a number of landmarks from the Campagna which had become an established artistic motif through the repertory of the ‘vedute’ tradition.2 As a young man, Turner had made a number of watercolour copies of images featuring the bridge with his contemporary, Thomas Girtin for Dr Monro’s Album of Italian Views 1794–6 (see Tate D36443–D36445; Turner Bequest CCCLXXIII 30–32). Further studies dating from 1819 can be found on folios 53, 54, 58 and 60 (D16475, D16476, D16483 and D16485; Turner Bequest CXC 59, 60, 66, and 68). It also features within more general panoramas of the Campagna in the St Peter’s sketchbook (see Tate D16217–D16226; Turner Bequest CLXXXVIII 35–40) and the Naples. Rome C. Studies sketchbook (see Tate D16123; Turner Bequest CLXXXVII 35).
Like many drawings within this sketchbook, the composition has been executed over a washed grey background. Turner has created areas of pale highlights by lifting or rubbing through to the white paper beneath, principally to delineate the architecture of the bridge, light reflected on the surface of the river and cloud formations within the sky. His choice of technique may have been influenced by the drawings and prints of Claude. The latter made many tonal images of Italian views executed in sepia tones with white highlights.3
For a detailed sketch of the bridge prior to 1805 see William Marlow (1740–1813), Ponte Molle, pencil on paper, Tate T09173.
For example in prints by Giovanni Battista Piranesi, see Luigi Ficacci, Piranesi: The Complete Etchings, Köln and London 2000, nos.523 and 935, pp.423 and 721, and Giuseppe Vasi, see http://www.romeartlover.it/Vasi84.htm, accessed June 2009.
See for example ‘Paysage pastoral avec le Ponte Molle’ circa 1645 (British Museum), reproduced in Ian Warrell, Blandine Chavanne and Michael Kitson, Turner et le Lorrain, exhibition catalogue, Musée des beaux-arts, Nancy 2002, nos.44, pp.98–9.
Blank except for traces of grey watercolour
Inscribed by ?John Ruskin in red ink ‘[?510]’ bottom left and by an unknown hand in red ink ‘CXC. 67’ bottom right

Nicola Moorby
June 2009

How to cite

Nicola Moorby, ‘Ponte Molle, Rome 1819 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, June 2009, in David Blayney Brown (ed.), J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours, Tate Research Publication, December 2012, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/jmw-turner/joseph-mallord-william-turner-ponte-molle-rome-r1132572, accessed 19 January 2020.