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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner The Roman Campagna, with Ponte Salario and the Confluence of the Tiber and Aniene Rivers 1819

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
The Roman Campagna, with Ponte Salario and the Confluence of the Tiber and Aniene Rivers 1819
Turner Bequest CLXXXVII 34
Pencil and watercolour on white wove paper, 254 x 405 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
A large number of studies from the Naples: Rome C. Studies sketchbook represent variant views of the Roman Campagna, the area of countryside encircling the outskirts of the Eternal City (Tate D16122–D16139; Turner Bequest CLXXXVII 34–51). This is one of six such compositions where Turner has developed the landscape in watercolour (see also Tate D16123, D16129–D16131, D16133; Turner Bequest CLXXXVII 35, 41–43, 45). The work depicts a location to the north of Rome where the River Aniene joins the curve of the larger River Tiber. As Thomas Ashby first identified, the featured bridge is the Ponte Salario, a crossing near the confluence of the two rivers which carried the Via Salaria (Salt Road) across the Aniene to the north.1 This ancient highway, said to derive its name from the salt trade, left the city at Porta Salaria in the Aurelian walls, east of the Borghese gardens between Porta Pinciana and Porta Pia, and led north-east as far as the Adriatic coast, approximately fifty miles south-east of Ancona.2 In Turner’s composition, the Via Salaria is indicated by the broad streak of brown paint in the foreground which leads the eye of the viewer from the bottom left-hand corner towards the bridge in the middle distance. Beyond the bridge is a watch-tower, sometimes known as the Torre Salaria or the Tomb of Mario, described by Ashby as ‘a large tomb of tufa concrete ... with a chamber in the form of Greek cross and a medieval tower above’.3 The bridge was destroyed in 1867 by Papal and French troops defending Rome against Giuseppe Garibaldi but the tower still survives today.4 Related pencil views can be found on folios 37 and 38 (D16125, D16126) and Turner also made more detailed studies – see the verso of this sheet (D41482) and D41514, the verso of D16121 (Turner Bequest CLXXXVII 33).
Further studies of the Campagna dating from Turner’s 1819 Italian tour can be found in the St Peter’s sketchbook (see Tate D16217–D16226; Turner Bequest CLXXXVIII 35–40) and throughout the Small Roman C. Studies sketchbook (see Tate D16459; Turner Bequest CXC 45). 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’s forays into the Campagna followed a long artistic tradition established during the seventeenth century by Claude Lorrain (circa 1600–1682) 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’. Turner, in particular, admired the work of Claude Lorrain whose paintings such as The Roman Campagna circa 1639 (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) combined motifs studied on the spot with an idealised vision of landscape. Throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, artists in search of authentic Italian landscape continued to follow the precedent for drawing and painting the Campagna and during the 1820s a small European coterie began to focus on painting in the open air.5 Unlike earlier topographical artists who had focused their depiction of the Campagna on images of selected landmarks, nineteenth century en plein air painters such as Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot (1796–1875) and his contemporaries developed a new approach rooted in empirical observation. Working directly from nature they produced panoramic views of vast barren spaces, deserted except for distant hills and isolated ruins which served to emphasise the grand emptiness of the terrain.
Turner’s watercolour studies of the Campagna share a number of pictorial similarities with the work of these en plein air artists.6 The landscapes he depicts are often wide, open spaces, devoid of figures, where the key compositional interest is provided by the winding river, distant mountain ranges or solitary ancient structures. There is also a similar focus on the broad expanse of sky and the transient effects of light. Yet there is no evidence that the artist actually painted in the open air during his time in Italy. Several contemporary sources testify that his preference was for drawing on the spot and for colouring indoors away from the motif, since it took up ‘too much time to colour in the open-air’ and ‘he could make 15 or 16 pencil sketches to one colored’.7 In this work, Turner has first sketched the basic composition in pencil, clearly visible within the sweeping loops of the river and the architectural features of the bridge and tower. He has then blocked in broad washes of watercolour before building up areas of greater tonal detail such as the shaded planes of the hill to the left. The vegetation in the foreground has been indicated with textured areas of paint applied with a dry brush. The sky meanwhile has been painted with liquid washes of limpid blue, and Turner has created cloud forms using both negative and positive techniques. The uppermost clouds utilise the blank preserved whiteness of the paper support whilst the darker wispy forms beneath have been described with a series of colours diffused within a wet background. Despite the apparent naturalism of the scene, there are elements of Claudian artifice. The subtle band of yellow on the right hand side signifies the strengthening sunrise growing in the east and recalls the golden light with which Claude suffused his Italianate landscapes. Additionally, the hazy blue of the distant line of mountains repeats the atmospheric effects of aerial perspective which characterise much of Claude’s work.
Martin Butlin has pointed to close stylistic parallels between this watercolour study and an oil sketch on millboard, Hilltown on the Edge of the Campagna (Tate, N05526), which appears to show an archetypal view of the countryside north of Rome with the River Tiber.8 The study is one of group of ten so-called ‘Small Italian Sketches’ which have a ‘freshness and directness’ which suggests that they may have been painted outside.9 The studies have not yet been conclusively dated. Evelyn Joll tentatively linked them to the 1819 tour whilst other scholars believe they pertain to Turner’s second stay in Rome in 1828 where he is known to have produced oil paintings in the studio.10 Furthermore, Ian Warrell has demonstrated that a previously related series of sixteen oil studies, the so-called ‘Roman Sketches’,11 are in fact largely composed of scenes relating to sketches from a visit to France in 1821.12 Although some of this latter group is identifiable as Italian landscapes Warrell has revised the dating to 1827–8, prior to the second Italian tour. It is possible therefore, that the group of millboard sketches including Hilltown of the Edge of the Campagna may also date from the period in between the two visits to Rome and therefore cannot have been painted directly from the subject.13
Ashby 1925, p.22.
The present-day SS4 highway follows much of the same route.
Thomas Ashby, The Roman campagna in Classical Times, 1927, quoted in Raymond Keaveney, Views of Rome from the Thomas Ashby Collection in the Vatican Library, exhibition catalogue, Smithsonian Institution, Washington 1988, pp.233–4.
See Oreste Ferrari, Tea Marintelli, Valerie Scott et al., Thomas Ashby: Un Archeologo Fotografa la Campagna Romana Tra ’800 e’900, Rome 1986, p.24, no.2 fig.1.
Peter Galassi, Corot in Italy: Open-Air Painting and the Classical-Landscape Tradition, New Haven and London 1991, pp.120–2.
Letter to John Soane from his son, 15 November 1819, quoted in Cecilia Powell, Turner in the South: Rome, Naples, Florence, New Haven and London 1987, p.50.
Butlin, Wilson and Gage 1974, p.130 under no.471 and Butlin and Joll 1984, no.318, p.180.
Butlin and Joll 1984, nos.318–27, pp.179–81.
See Cecilia Powell’s entry on ‘Roman Oil Sketches’ in Evelyn Joll, Martin Butlin and Luke Herrmann (eds.), The Oxford Companion to J.M.W. Turner, Oxford 2001, pp.266–8.
Butlin and Joll 1984, nos.302–17, pp.176–9.
Ian Warrell, Turner on the Seine, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1999, pp.23, 28–30.
Joll, Butlin and Herrmann (eds.) 2001, p.268.
Technical notes:
Long detached from the Naples, Rome C. Studies sketchbook, this sheet was perhaps once folio 34 (see the concordance in the introduction). There is another drawing, not recorded by Finberg, on the verso (D41482).

Nicola Moorby
February 2009

How to cite

Nicola Moorby, ‘The Roman Campagna, with Ponte Salario and the Confluence of the Tiber and Aniene Rivers 1819 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, February 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-roman-campagna-with-ponte-salario-and-the-confluence-of-r1132383, accessed 24 May 2024.