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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner The Amphitheatre of Domitian and the Church of San Paolo, Albano 1819

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Folio 3 Recto:
The Amphitheatre of Domitian and the Church of San Paolo, Albano 1819
Turner Bequest CLXXXII 3
Pencil on white wove paper, 113 x 189 mm
Inscribed by the artist in pencil ‘Brick’ within arched building top left and ‘Sea’ top centre and ‘Albano’ top right
Inscribed by John Ruskin in blue ink ‘3’ top right and ‘301’ bottom right
Stamped in black ‘CLXXXII 3’ bottom right
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
The sketches on this page depict the ruins of the Amphitheatre of Domitian at Albano. There are many ancient remains to be seen in the town including the Castra Albana camp of Septimius Severus, the imperial villa, the ancient gates of the Porta Pretoria and Porta Principalis Sinistra, the baths of Cellomaio and the cistern which fed the town. However, Octavian Blewitt in his Hand-book for Travellers in Central Italy (first published in 1842) described the amphitheatre as ‘the most remarkable remains’ which were situated ‘between the Church of S. Paolo and the Cappuccini, mentioned by Suetonius and by Juvenal as the scene of the most revolting cruelties of the last and worst of the Caesars.’1 The smaller study in the top right-hand corner appears to depict part of the amphitheatre on the hill above the town with the campanile of the Church of San Paolo visible on the left (see also folio 1 verso, D15297). Turner’s sketch shows the ruins on the right and the sea on the left and confirms that he must have been facing south-west.
Turner’s rough sketches of these ruins may have been inspired by Piranesi (1720–1778). The latter’s etching Rovine dell’Anfiteatro detto di Domiziano was published as part of Antichità d’Albano e di Castel Gandolfo, 1764.2 The larger view in particular is similar in composition to Piranesi’s and captures something of the crumbling grandeur of the brick arches.

Nicola Moorby
May 2008

Octavian Blewitt, A Hand-book for Travellers in Central Italy, London 1850, 2nd edition p.570.
See Luigi Ficacci, Piranesi: The Complete Etchings, Köln and London 2000, no.571, reproduced p.461.

How to cite

Nicola Moorby, ‘The Amphitheatre of Domitian and the Church of San Paolo, Albano 1819 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, May 2008, 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-the-amphitheatre-of-domitian-and-the-church-of-san-paolo-r1132595, accessed 20 May 2024.