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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner The So-Called Temple of Vesta, Tivoli 1819

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Folio 3 Verso:
The So-Called Temple of Vesta, Tivoli 1819
Turner Bequest CLXXIX 3 a
Pencil on white wove paper, 112 x 186 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
The so-called Temple of Vesta is an ancient circular edifice dating from the first century BC which stands on the brink of the gorge at the northern edge of Tivoli. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries it represented an important site for the study of classical architecture and was one of the most popular motifs for artists visiting Italy. This sketch depicts the western side of the temple which is the most ruinous. In front of a semi-circle of surviving Corinthian columns is an irregular fragment of the cella, or inner chamber, whilst on the right can be seen the rectangular arch of the door frame. Despite the fact that Palladio had labelled it as ‘Vesta’ in his I Quattoro Libri dell’Architettura (1570),1 the temple has also been frequently known in the past as the Temple of the Sibyl. Confusingly, the adjacent rectangular-shaped building formerly dedicated as a church to St George, is also known as the so-called Temple of the Sibyl. With reference to Turner’s drawings, Finberg and other scholars intermittently employed both titles, but these have now been regularised throughout using the accepted name, the ‘so-called Temple of Vesta’. However, the attributions still remain a matter for conjecture and may change again in the future.
Like many celebrated classical ruins the appearance of the Temple of Vesta was already well known to Turner before he ever set foot in Italy. Not only was it the most recognisable monument synonymous with Tivoli, but it was also the best preserved example of a circular, peripteral structure and an important reference source for the Corinthian order of architecture. Following George Dance the Younger’s (1741–1825) full measured survey during the early 1760s, the temple had become a popular source of inspiration for British architects and it also became common for English designers to incorporate features inspired by the ruin within landscaped gardens. Brocklesby Mausoleum, for example, had been built in 1792 by James Wyatt to commemorate the wife of one of Turner’s patrons, Baron Yarborough, and the artist made several studies of the structure in 1798, see for example the Brocklesby Mausoleum sketchbook (Tate; Turner Bequest LXXXIII), and two watercolours (Tate D08277; Turner Bequest CXXI U, and Tate D17101; Turner Bequest CXXV 130). Turner’s great friend, the architect, John Soane (1753–1857) was greatly influenced by the temple, notably in his ‘Tivoli’ corner for the Bank of England.2 Soane owned copies of Dance’s illustrations and frequently referred to the site in his Royal Academy lectures (1809–1837). Turner is therefore extremely likely to have had heard Soane discourse upon the design of the building and to have seen his detailed images of the plans and elevation.
The temple had also long attracted the attention of artists and regularly featured as the subject of paintings or topographical prints. As a young man, Turner had copied many images by other artists from the collection of Dr Thomas Monro, for example: Temple of the Sibyl, Tivoli, Seen from Below 1794–6 (Dr Monro’s Album of Italian Views, Tate D36449; Turner Bequest CCCLXXIII 36); Temple of the Sibyl, Tivoli circa 1795–7 (Tate D36535; Turner Bequest CCCLXXV 14); Tivoli with the Temple of the Sibyl ?circa 1794–7 (Laing Art Gallery, Tyne and Wear Museums); and Tivoli with the Temple of the Sibyl and the Cascades circa 1796–7 (Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Center) (despite their titles all of which depict the Temple of Vesta). The building regularly appears in capriccio and vedute by the great seventeenth-century painters of the Roman Campagna, Claude Lorrain (circa 1604/5–82) and Gaspard Dughet (1615–1675), whose work was very much in Turner’s mind during his 1819 travels in Italy. He was also familiar with, and copied a version of, the oil painting by eighteenth-century landscapist Richard Wilson (1713–1782), Tivoli: Temple of the Sibyl and the Roman Campagna, owned by his friend and patron, Revd Henry Scott Trimmer.3 Furthermore, a thumbnail sketch inscribed ‘Sybils Temple’ appears as one of the illustrations which Turner copied from Select Views in Italy by John ‘Warwick’ Smith (1749–1831) in the Italian Guide Book sketchbook (see Tate D13966; Turner Bequest CLXXII 19, second from bottom right). In 1817 the temple had featured prominently within a finished watercolour by Turner, Landscape: Composition of Tivoli (private collection) which was painted for the collector, John Allnutt.4
During his 1819 visit, Turner studied the Temple of Vesta from a variety of angles and also repeatedly drew it in relation to its surroundings, see for example folios 1 verso–2, 3 verso–4, 40, 41, 42–43, 64 verso, 65 verso, 77 verso, 78 verso, 79 verso–80 verso, and 89 (D14934–D14935, D14938–D14939, D15000, D15002, D15004, D15004–D15006, D15047, D15049, D15072, D15074, D15076–D15078 and D15095). There is also a diagram of the ground plan on the inside front cover (see D40925). More detailed studies can also be found in the Tivoli sketchbook (Tate D15511–D15518; Turner Bequest CLXXXIII 43–7), and in the Naples, Rome: C. Studies sketchbook (Tate D16115–D16116, D16118–D16119; Turner Bequest CLXXXVII 27–8, 30–1). Despite his obvious interest in the building Turner made no immediate finished compositions featuring the site, although a colour beginning (Tate D17185; Turner Bequest CXCVI U) suggests the early stages of a potential watercolour. He eventually referenced his various sketches of the temple within the vignette illustration, Tivoli for Rogers’s Italy, published in 1830 (see Tate D27683; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 166).

Nicola Moorby
December 2009

Andrew Lumisden, Remarks on the Antiquities of Rome and Its Environs, London 1812, p.418.
Margaret Richardson, ‘John Soane and the Temple of Vesta at Tivoli’, Architectural History, vol.46, 2003, pp.127–146.
William Chubb, ‘Turner’s “Cicero at his Villa” ’, Burlington Magazine, vol.123, July 1981, p.417 note 1.
Andrew Wilton, The Life and Work of J.M.W. Turner, Fribourg 1979, no.495. See also the engraving by Edward Goodall (Tate, T04502).

How to cite

Nicola Moorby, ‘The So-Called Temple of Vesta, Tivoli 1819 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, December 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-so-called-temple-of-vesta-tivoli-r1137570, accessed 19 May 2024.