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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner View of Ponte Molle and the River Tiber, Rome, from Villa Madama on Monte Mario 1819

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
View of Ponte Molle and the River Tiber, Rome, from Villa Madama on Monte Mario 1819
Turner Bequest CLXXXIX 24
Pencil and grey watercolour wash on white wove ‘Valleyfield’ paper, 234 x 371 mm
Inscribed by an unknown hand in blue ink ‘F.1’ bottom right
Stamped in black ‘CLXXXIX 24’ bottom right
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Some of the most famous panoramas of Rome could be seen from the heights of Monte Mario, a hill to the north of the city. John Chetwode Eustace, author of A Classical Tour in Italy described the view from the Villa Mellini (now the Rome Observatory) on the summit of the hill:
The Tiber intersecting the city and winding through rich meadows; the Prata Quintia and Prata Mutia, fields still bearing their names, the trophies of Roman virtue and Roman heroism; the Pons Milvius with its tower, and the plains consecrated by the victory of Constantine; the Vatican Palace with its courts and gardens; the Basilica of St Peter with its portico, its obelisk, and its fountains, the Campus Martius covered with the churches, squares and palaces of the modern city; the seven hills strewed with ruins of the ancient; the walls with their towers and galleries; the desert Campagna, with Mount Soracte rising apparently in the centre; and the semi-circular sweep of mountains tinged with blue or purple, now bright with the sun, now dark in the shade, and generally gleaming with snow – such is the varied and magnificent scene spread out before the traveller, while reposing on the shaded terrace of Villa Mellini.1
As Finberg and Thomas Ashby first identified, this sketch depicts the view from near the Villa Madama, a sixteenth-century estate built for the Medici family on the eastern slopes, famous for its garden loggia designed by Raphael.2 The composition encompasses a sweep of approximately ninety degrees with the central focus of the dramatic ox-bow curve of the River Tiber in the foreground. The bridge visible on the left-hand side is the Ponte Molle, also known as the Ponte Milvio. This crossing carried the Via Flaminia across the Tiber into Rome and hence was the entry and exit point for British tourists to and from the city during the nineteenth century. Famous as the site of the deciding battle between Emperors Constantine and Maxentius in 312 AD, the bridge is recognisable from the four central arches spanning the river (there were also two smaller arches at either end not clearly visible from a distance) and an entrance tower on the northern end (left) which had been rebuilt in 1805.3 Like many pages within this sketchbook, the drawing has been executed over a washed grey background. Turner has created areas of pale highlights by lifting or rubbing through to the white paper beneath, principally to delineate the twisting course of the river and the lightness of the snow covered Apennine mountains in the distance.
Turner made a large number of studies repeating related views from the Villa Madama and Monte Mario, see folios 31, 48, 57 and 60 (D16357, D16377, D16388, D16391; CLXXXIX 31, 48, 57, 60) and loose sheets (D16342, D16352; CLXXXIX 16, 26). Further sketches can also be found in the St Peter’s sketchbook (Tate D16174–D16177; Turner Bequest CLXXXVIII 9a–11) and the Small Roman C. Studies sketchbook (Tate D16444; CXC 33a). The composition is also very similar to James Hakewill’s drawing of the same subject, View of the Ponte Molle and the Tiber, Looking across the Campagna to the Sabine Mountains 1816.4 The large number of detailed studies devoted to the subject suggests that Turner was seriously exploring the idea as a potential theme for a painting. Indeed, the visual motif of the sweeping bend of river is repeated in a later oil study, Hill Town on the Edge of the Campagna ?1828 (Tate, N05526).5
Finberg described Turner’s 1819 views from Monte Mario as ‘exquisite’ views which had ‘long been among the most admired of the drawings exhibited in the Turner Water-Colour Rooms at the National Gallery’.6 Unfortunately, in common with many of the sketches and watercolours chosen for display during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, it has suffered from overexposure to light and the paper has become irreversibly faded and discoloured. Peter Bower has suggested that this is probably down to the high content of indigo in the grey watercolour wash, rather than properties within the paper.7
John Chetwode Eustace, A Classical Tour of Italy, London 1815, 3rd edition, vol.II, p.203.
Finberg 1909, p.562 and Ashby 1925, pp.21–2.
For a detailed sketch of the bridge prior to 1805 see William Marlow (1740–1813), Ponte Molle, pencil on paper, Tate T09173.
Tony Cubberley and Luke Herrmann, Twilight of the Grand Tour: A Catalogue of the Drawings by James Hakewill in the British School at Rome Library, Rome 1992, p.185. no.3.4, reproduced.
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, no.318.
Alexander J. Finberg, Turner’s Sketches and Drawings, London 1910, p.92.
Peter Bower, Turner’s Papers: A Study of the Manufacture, Selection and Use of his Drawing Papers 1787–1820, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1990, p.120.
Blank; stamped in black ‘CLXXXIX 24’ bottom centre.

Nicola Moorby
July 2009

How to cite

Nicola Moorby, ‘View of Ponte Molle and the River Tiber, Rome, from Villa Madama on Monte Mario 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-of-ponte-molle-and-the-river-tiber-rome-from-villa-r1132472, accessed 24 May 2024.