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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner View from the Janiculum Hill, Rome, with the Villa Aurelia, Fontana dell'Acqua Paola and San Pietro in Montorio 1819

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
View from the Janiculum Hill, Rome, with the Villa Aurelia, Fontana dell’Acqua Paola and San Pietro in Montorio 1819
Turner Bequest CLXXXIX 27
Pencil, watercolour, gouache and grey watercolour wash on white wove ‘Valleyfield’ paper, 228 x 366 mm
Inscribed by an unknown hand in blue ink ‘F 6’ bottom right
Stamped in black ‘CLXXXIX 27’ bottom right
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
In common with many eighteenth- and nineteenth-century visitors to Rome, part of Turner’s exploration of the city included the panoramic views seen from certain elevated vantage points. One of the most famous of these was the Janiculum Hill (or Gianicolo), a ridge of high ground to the west of the River Tiber which offered sweeping vistas across the historical centre of the capital. The most famous vantage points were from San Pietro in Montorio, the Villa Lante, or the oak of Torquato Tasso, and Turner made sketches from all of these spots (see Tate D16328, D16338, D16378; Turner Bequest 2, 12, 49). His choice of viewpoint for this coloured study, however, is more unusual, and depicts the view looking east from near to the Porta San Pancrazio. There are three key structures dominating the forground: on the far right is the Church of San Pietro in Montorio; in the centre is the back of the Fontana dell’Acqua Paola (Pauline Fountain); and the building on the far left is the Villa Aurelia, a seventeenth-century residence built for Cardinal Girolamo Farnese (also known as the Casino del Giardino Farnese sul Monte Gianicolo, now part of the American Academy in Rome).1 During the French invasion of Rome in the mid-nineteenth century the house was used as the headquarters of General Garibaldi and suffered considerable damage from bombardment. Although the façade of the villa was restored, the roof was rebuilt in a different style from that depicted by Turner. It can be seen, however, in an eighteenth-century topographical print by Giuseppe Vasi,2 and in the background of an engraving of the Fontana dell’Acqua Paola by Giovanni Battista Piranesi.3 A related and similar view can be found on the verso of this sheet (D40049). Unlike Turner’s other drawings of views from the Janiculum Hill there does not appear to be an artistic precedent for this unorthodox choice of composition.
Like many pages within this sketchbook, the sketch has been executed over a washed grey background. Turner first drew the outline in pencil before partially working up the view with loose washes of watercolour. He has also used a small amount of white gouache to describe the distant snow-topped mountains. It is not known why the artist chose to add a general sense of local colour without achieving a more significant level of finished detail.
Turner made a thorough exploration of various locations on the Janiculum using several sketchbooks. He made a large number of drawings from the oak of Torquato Tasso at the northern end of the hill in the Rome C. Studies sketchbook (Tate D16378; Turner Bequest CLXXXIX 49), the St Peter’s sketchbook (Tate D16158–D16165; Turner Bequest CLXXXVIII 2–5), and the Small Roman C. Studies sketchbook (Tate D16446–D16447; Turner Bequest CXC 34a–35). He also made sketches from the Villa Lante in the centre of the hill (Tate D16338; Turner Bequest CLXXXIX 12, D40856, and Tate D16449; Turner Bequest CXC 36). Finally, related sketches from the southern tip include the Fontana dell’Acqua Paola (Tate D15450; Turner Bequest CLXXXII 80) and San Pietro in Montorio (Tate D16328; CLXXXIX 2 and Tate D15447–D15449; Turner Bequest CLXXXII 78a–79a). The extended series of sketches suggests that he was seriously exploring the subject as a potential picture in oil or watercolour. His interest ultimately led to a finished watercolour, Rome, San Pietro in Montorio circa 1820–1 (Courtauld Institute of Art, London) which he produced following the 1819 tour for his great friend and patron, Walter Fawkes.4

Nicola Moorby
July 2009

See Luigi Ficacci, Piranesi: The Complete Etchings, Köln and London 2000, no.912, reproduced p.708.
Andrew Wilton, The Life and Work of J.M.W. Turner, Fribourg 1979, no.720, as ‘Rome, from the Pincian Hill’. First identified with correct title by David Hill in Turner in Yorkshire, exhibition catalogue, York City Art Gallery, York 1980, no.97, p.64. Reproduced in colour in The Courtauld Collection, exhibition catalogue, Wordsworth Trust, Grasmere 2008, no.16.

How to cite

Nicola Moorby, ‘View from the Janiculum Hill, Rome, with the Villa Aurelia, Fontana dell’Acqua Paola and San Pietro in Montorio 1819 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, July 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-view-from-the-janiculum-hill-rome-with-the-villa-aurelia-r1132475, accessed 24 May 2024.