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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner Rome, from near the Villa Mellini on Monte Mario 1819

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Folio 33 Recto:
Rome, from near the Villa Mellini on Monte Mario 1819
Turner Bequest CLXXXIX 33
Pencil, watercolour, gouache and grey watercolour wash on white wove ‘Valleyfield’ paper, 229 x 368 mm
Stamped in black ‘CLXXXIX 33’ bottom right
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Some of the most famous panoramas of Rome could be seen from the heights of Monte Mario, a hill to the north of the city. This sketch depicts the view looking south from a point beneath the Villa Mellini, a fifteenth-century residence built on the summit of the southern spur of Monte Mario for Cardinal Mario Mellini, after whom the hill is named. Today the building houses the Rome observatory and meteorological station but during the nineteenth century it was noteworthy as the location for one of the best panoramic views across the city. John Chetwode Eustace described the prospect in A Classical Tour in Italy:
One of the most conspicuous objects in the immediate neighbourhood of Rome is the Monte Mario ... a bold eminence lying about a mile north-west from the Porta-Angelica, clothed with vineyards and crowned with groves of cypress and poplar. On its summit rises the Villa Mellini, remarkable for the noble view that lies expanded under its terrace. The Tiber intersecting the city and winding through rich meadows; the Prata Quintia and Prata Mutia, fields still bearing their names, the trophies of Roman virtue and Roman heroism; the Pons Milvius with its tower, and the plains consecrated by the victory of Constantine; the Vatican Palace with its courts and gardens; the Basilica of St Peter with its portico, its obelisk, and its fountains, the Campus Martius covered with the churches, squares and palaces of the modern city; the seven hills strewed with ruins of the ancient; the walls with their towers and galleries; the desert Campagna, with Mount Soracte rising apparently in the centre; and the semi-circular sweep of mountains tinged with blue or purple, now bright with the sun, now dark in the shade, and generally gleaming with snow – such is the varied and magnificent scene spread out before the traveller, while reposing on the shaded terrace of Villa Mellini.1
The composition encompasses a sweep of approximately ninety degrees. Identifiable landmarks include, in the centre, the Castel Sant’Angelo and Ponte Sant’Angelo, with the Aventine Hill and Monte Testaccio above. To the right, visible as a blue silhouette is San Pietro in Montorio and the Janiculum Hill, and on the far right is the vast complex of St Peter’s and the Vatican. Thomas Ashby identified the straight thoroughfare in the central middle distance as the Viale Angelico, which runs through the meadows and gardens of the Prati di Castello to the Porta Angelica and the Vatican.2 Turner recorded similar viewpoints on another sheet within this sketchbook (see Tate D16337; Turner Bequest CLXXXIX 11) and in the Small Roman C. Studies sketchbook (Tate D16481; Turner Bequest CXC 64). He also made several other images featuring alternative views from Monte Mario, see folios 31, 48, 57 and 60 (D16357, D16377, D16388, D16391) and loose sheets (D16342, D16350, D16352; CLXXXIX 16, 24, 26). Further studies can also be found within the St Peter’s sketchbook (see Tate D16174–D16181; Turner Bequest 9a–13).
Like many drawings within the Rome C. Studies sketchbook, the composition has been executed over a washed grey background and Turner has created areas of pale highlights within the sky and landscape by rubbing through to the white paper beneath. He has also partially coloured the view with watercolour and gouache, particularly across the line of the horizon and the right-hand foreground. The tonal use of blue for the distant centre of Rome and the mountains beyond recalls the atmospheric effects of aerial perspective which characterise the paintings of the seventeenth-century master, Claude Lorrain (circa 1600–1682). As Cecilia Powell has discussed, the visual approach of depicting a distant prospect of the city from Monte Mario had a long artistic tradition.3 Turner may have known similar examples by his eighteenth-century landscape predecessors such as Richard Wilson’s Rome from the Villa Madama 1753 (Yale Center for British Art, New Haven),4 or John Robert Cozens’s Rome from the Villa Mellini circa 1783–8 (Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge).5 The large number of detailed studies devoted to the subject within this sketchbook suggests that Turner was seriously exploring the idea as a potential theme for a finished painting, and indeed this resulted in a watercolour, Rome, from the Monte Mario circa 1820–1 (private collection),6 one of a number of Italian scenes painted for Turner’s great friend and patron, Walter Fawkes, following the artist’s 1819 tour.
John Ruskin commented that the work displayed ‘very beautiful colour in the middle distance’.7 Similarly, Finberg described Turner’s 1819 views from Monte Mario as ‘exquisite’ pieces which had ‘long been among the most admired of the drawings exhibited in the Turner Water-Colour Rooms at the National Gallery’.8 Unfortunately, in common with many of the sketches and watercolours chosen for display during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, this work has suffered from overexposure to light and the paper has become irreversibly faded and discoloured. Peter Bower has suggested that this is probably down to the high content of indigo in the grey watercolour wash, rather than properties within the paper.9
John Chetwode Eustace, A Classical Tour of Italy, London 1815, 3rd edition, vol.II, p.203.
Ashby 1925, p.22 and between pp.10–11.
Powell 1987, pp.104–7.
Reproduced David Solkin, Richard Wilson, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1982, no.67, p.184.
Reproduced Powell 1987, fig.116, p.106.
Andrew Wilton, The Life and Work of J.M.W. Turner, Fribourg 1979, no.719. Reproduced in colour in Shanes Joll, Warrell et al 2000, no.52, p.145.
John Ruskin, ‘Catalogue of the Turner Sketches in the National Gallery’, London 1857, reproduced in Cook and Wedderburn (eds.), vol.XIII, p.298.
Finberg 1910, p.92.
Peter Bower, Turner’s Papers: A Study of the Manufacture, Selection and Use of his Drawing Papers 1787–1820, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1990, p.120.
Blank, except for traces of grey watercolour wash; inscribed by an unknown hand in pencil ‘CLXXXIX – 33’ bottom right and stamped in black ‘CLXXXIX 33’ bottom centre right.

Nicola Moorby
July 2009

How to cite

Nicola Moorby, ‘Rome, from near the Villa Mellini on Monte Mario 1819 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, July 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-rome-from-near-the-villa-mellini-on-monte-mario-r1132428, accessed 20 May 2022.