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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner The Arch of Titus and the Basilica of Constantine, Rome 1819

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Folio 21 Recto:
The Arch of Titus and the Basilica of Constantine, Rome 1819
Turner Bequest CXC 1
Pencil and grey watercolour wash on white wove paper, 130 x 255 mm
Stamped in black ‘CXC 1’ bottom right
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
The composition of this sketch is formed by two monuments in the Roman Forum: on the left-hand side is the first-century Arch of Titus; whilst on the right is part of the vast Basilica of Constantine and Maxentius. Turner’s viewpoint is on the Via Sacra with his back towards the Colosseum, looking towards the eastern façade of the Arch of Titus. During the early nineteenth century the integrity of the structure was disrupted by the remains of medieval stone walls and unsightly accumulations of rubble abutting the sides. These were cleared in the early 1820s by Giuseppe Valadier (1762–1839) who restored the Arch to something approaching its original (and present) appearance. Visible through the central space is the Temple of Castor and Pollux, whilst the building dominating the right-hand edge of the page is the Church of Santa Francesca Romana. Like many drawings within this sketchbook, the composition has been executed over a washed grey background and Turner has created areas of pale highlights by scratching through to the white paper beneath. Unfortunately, in common with many of the sketches and watercolours chosen for display during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the work has suffered from overexposure to light and the paper has become irreversibly faded and discoloured.
The drawing forms the main compositional basis for the oil painting, Forum Romanum, for Mr Soane’s Museum exhibited 1826 (Tate, N00504), which as the title suggests was intended for the gallery of Turner’s friend, the architect Sir John Soane (1753–1837).1 A further related study can be found in the Rome C. Studies sketchbook (Tate D16370; Turner Bequest CLXXXIX 43). As Cecilia Powell has pointed out, the topographical accuracy of the sketch is not maintained within the painting. Turner has reduced the size of the accretions on either side of the Arch of Titus in order to incorporate features in the Forum which would not have been visible in reality, such as the Capitoline tower and the Temple of Vespasian.2
Butlin and Joll 1984, no.233.
Powell 1984, p.256 and 1987, p.125.
Blank except for traces of grey watercolour.
Inscribed by ?John Ruskin in red ink ‘794’ top right, inverted and by an unknown hand in pencil ‘CXC – 1’ centre top, inverted

Nicola Moorby
May 2009

How to cite

Nicola Moorby, ‘The Arch of Titus and the Basilica of Constantine, Rome 1819 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, May 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-the-arch-of-titus-and-the-basilica-of-constantine-rome-r1132522, accessed 28 May 2024.