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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner View of Rome from the Villa Lante on the Janiculum Hill 1819

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
View of Rome from the Villa Lante on the Janiculum Hill 1819
Turner Bequest CLXXXIX 12
Pencil and grey watercolour wash on white wove ‘Valleyfield’ paper, 231 x 367 mm
Stamped in black ‘CLXXXIX 12’ 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 viewpoint for this study is the Villa Lante, a sixteenth-century summer-house designed by Giulio Romano (circa 1499–1546). The villa was famed for its view from the loggia: an epigram by the ancient poet, Valerius Martial, carved above a doorway in the loggia testifies to the fame of the prospect: ‘HINC TOTAM LICET AESTIMARE ROMAM’ [Here one can take the measure of all Rome].1 The most famous topographical image of this prospect was Giuseppe Vasi’s vast etching, Prospetto dell’alma città di Roma visto dal Monte Gianicolo, published in 1765.2 The composition of this drawing is extremely close to the right-hand side of Vasi’s panoramic print.
Turner appears to have been standing in the terraced gardens beneath the Villa looking east across the city and the southern tip of the Janiculum. In the middle distance to the immediate left is the rear façade and grounds of the Palazzo Corsini, whilst slightly above to the right is the Isola Tiberina (Tiber Island) with its two bridges linking the banks of the river. Identifiable landmarks along the line of the horizon include, from left to right: the two domes and obelisk of Santa Maria Maggiore, with the square tower of the Torre Milize in front; the Capitoline Hill with the façade of Santa Maria in Aracoeli and the tower of the Palazzo Senatorio; the Colosseum; San Giovanni in Laterano; the Palatine Hill with the vast substructures of the Palace of Septimius Severus; the Aventine Hill with the Alban Mountains beyond; and on the far right-hand side, the Church of San Pietro in Montorio and the Fontana dell’Acqua Paola on the Janiculum Hill. Like many of the drawings within this sketchbook the composition has been executed over a grey watercolour wash and Turner has created highlights by scratching or rubbing through to reveal the white paper beneath. Unfortunately, the page was chosen for display during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and has suffered from overexposure to light. The paper has become irreversibly faded and discoloured.
Turner made a thorough exploration of various locations on the Janiculum using several sketchbooks. Related sketches which include the Villa Lante can be found in this sketchbook (see D40856) and the Small Roman C. Studies sketchbook (Tate D16449; Turner Bequest CXC 36). 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). Finally he explored the views from the southern tip of the hill, from San Pietro in Montorio (Tate D16328; CLXXXIX 2 and Tate D15447–D15449; Turner Bequest CLXXXII 78a–79a), the Fontana dell’Acqua Paola (Tate D15450; Turner Bequest CLXXXII 80) and from the Villa Amelia (Tate D16353; Turner Bequest CLXXXIX 27 and D40049). 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.3
Quoted in James F. O’Gorman, ‘The Villa Lante in Rome; Some Drawings and Some Observations’, Burlington Magazine, vol.113, no.816, March 1971, p.133.
Reproduced in the endpapers of Raymond Keaveney, Views of Rome from the Thomas Ashby Collection in the Vatican Library, exhibition catalogue, Smithsonian Institution, Washington 1988, and on-line, see http://vasi.uoregon.edu/works_panorama.html, accessed July 2009.
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.
Blank, except for traces of watercolour; inscribed by an unknown hand(s) in pencil ‘CLXXXIX. 12’ bottom centre right and ‘12’ centre, and stamped in black ‘CLXXXIX 12’ bottom centre.

Nicola Moorby
July 2009

How to cite

Nicola Moorby, ‘View of Rome from the Villa Lante on the Janiculum Hill 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-rome-from-the-villa-lante-on-the-janiculum-hill-r1132461, accessed 19 May 2024.