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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner The Villa d'Este, Tivoli 1819

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Folio 5 Verso:
The Villa d’Este, Tivoli 1819
Turner Bequest CLXXIX 5 a
Pencil on white wove paper, 112 x 186 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
The subject of this drawing is the Villa d’Este in Tivoli, a spectacular Renaissance villa and landscaped garden built in the sixteenth century by Cardinal Ippolito d’Este (1509–1572), the son of Lucrezia Borgia. Along with the Villa Adriana, the so-called Temple of Vesta and the Villa of Maecenas (now known as the Temple of Hercules Victor), it formed the principal focus for Turner’s exploration of Tivoli during his visit in 1819. The artist made a number of on-the-spot sketches of the famous estate, renowned for its numerous themed fountains and water features, see folios 4 verso–5, 9 verso–13, 36 verso–39 (D14940–D14941, D14947–D14954, D14993–D14998). Further studies can also be found on folio 45 (D15010) and in the Tivoli sketchbook (Tate D15477 and D15499; Turner Bequest CLXXXIII 11 and 32). This view looking east across the width of the grounds appears to have been drawn from a spot near the Fountain of the Dragons, a water feature set within the central axis of the garden. Visible above on the right-hand side of the composition is the casino, whilst the left-hand side is dominated by a group of tall Mediterranean umbrella pines. A small part of the drawing spills over onto the opposite sheet of the double-page spread, see folio 6 (D14943).
Travel writers frequently listed the Villa d’Este as one of the must-see curiosities of Tivoli, extolling its virtues as a faded reminder of a glorious past era. Designed by Neopolitan architect, Pirro Ligorio, it took its inspiration from the design of the nearby Villa Adriana. However, by the nineteenth century the casino and gardens, now owned by the Duke of Modena, were in a considerable state of disrepair and the elaborate landscaping and engineered water features were unfashionably at odds with the Romantic love of the natural world.1 Revd John Chetwode Eustace, the author of A Classical Tour Through Italy, for example, wrote that ‘The gardens are laid out in the old style, and not conformable to our ideas of rustic beauty, and the whole is in a most lamentable state,’2 whilst Charlotte Eaton similarly described it as:
a most hideous villa ... One cannot but wonder who could have turned from the beautiful waterfalls of Tivoli, to invent these foolish waterworks? – Who could have beheld these luxuriant shades and groves, and projected these clipt hedges and tormented trees? Who, amidst all these enchanting beauties of Nature, could have collected together all these deformities of art? What strange depravity of taste!3
As a young man copying watercolours at the house of Dr Thomas Monro with his contemporary, Thomas Girtin, Turner had reproduced several images featuring the Villa d’Este (see Tate D36540; Turner Bequest CCCLXXV 19, Tate D36457; Turner Bequest CCCLXXIII 44, and Villa d’Este after John Robert Cozens circa 1796, Yale Center for British Art).
Although Turner’s sketches of the Villa d’Este never amounted to a painting of the subject, Cecilia Powell has drawn attention to similarities between the view of the casino as seen from the Rotunda of the Cypresses,4 see folio 36 verso (D14993), and the vista lined with cypress trees on the left of the finished oil painting, Cicero in his Villa exhibited 1839 (private collection).5

Nicola Moorby
January 2010

W.A. Cadell, A Journey near Carniola, Italy and France in the Years 1817, 1818, Edinburgh 1820, p.457.
John Chetwode Eustace, A Classical Tour Through Italy, London 1815, 3rd edition, vol.II, p.241.
Charlotte Eaton, Rome in the Nineteenth Century, Edinburgh 1820, vol.3, p.349.
Cecilia Powell, ‘Turner on Classic Ground: His Visits to Central and Southern Italy and Related Paintings and Drawings’, unpublished Ph.D thesis, Courtauld Institute of Art, University of London 1984, p.356.
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, no.381.

How to cite

Nicola Moorby, ‘The Villa d’Este, Tivoli 1819 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, January 2010, 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-villa-deste-tivoli-r1137574, accessed 27 May 2024.