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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner View of the Arch of Titus and the Temple of Venus and Roma, from the Arch of Constantine and the Meta Sudans, Rome 1819

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
View of the Arch of Titus and the Temple of Venus and Roma, from the Arch of Constantine and the Meta Sudans, Rome 1819
Turner Bequest CLXXXIX 40
Gouache, pencil, watercolour and grey watercolour wash on white wove ‘Whatman’ paper, 225 x 367 mm
Stamped in black ‘CLXXXIX 40’ bottom right
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
The subject of this coloured study is the eastern end of the Roman Forum. Turner’s viewpoint is just in front of the Colosseum, with his back to the famous amphitheatre, looking west down the Via Sacra. Dominating the left-hand side of the picture is an oblique view of the Arch of Constantine, whilst the foreground object to the right is the Meta Sudans, a conical fountain dating from the first century, demolished by Mussolini in 1936. The perspectival focal point of composition is the Arch of Titus, which stands in the central middle distance with the Temple of Venus and Roma on the right, and the Palatine Hill on the left. Thomas Ashby has identified the tower to the immediate left of the Arch as the Turris Cartularia, a building which once contained the archives of the Church of Rome, but which was demolished in 1828.1 In the far distance is the Capitoline Hill, with the campanile of the Senatorial Palace. The small figurative group in the immediate foreground includes a man driving two cows, a reminder of the nineteenth-century usage of the Forum as a market for livestock which had led the modern appellation of the site as the ‘Campo Vaccino’ (Field of Cattle). Like many drawings within the Rome C. Studies sketchbook, the composition has been executed over a washed grey background. Turner first sketched a rough pencil outline before more fully developing the view in watercolour and gouache.
The Forum represented the heart of political, commercial and judicial life in ancient Rome and during his 1819 sojourn in Rome, Turner made numerous sketches of its magnificent buildings and monuments (see for example, the Albano, Nemi, Rome sketchbook, the St Peter’s sketchbook, the Small Roman C. Studies sketchbook, all Tate). The Rome: C. Studies sketchbook contains a number of detailed compositions, some developed in colour, principally featuring views of the eastern end with the Colosseum, and the Arches of Constantine and Titus (see D16351, D16354, D16355, D16365, D16370, D16372, D16375, D16376, D16379, D16389; Turner Bequest CLXXXIX 25, 28, 29, 38, 43, 44, 46, 47, 50, 58). These ideas would later evolve into the large finished oil painting, Forum Romanum, for Mr Soane’s Museum exhibited 1826 (Tate N00504).2
Ashby 1925, p.27.
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, no.233.
Blank; inscribed by an unknown hand in pencil ‘CLXXXIX-40’ bottom centre right, and stamped in black ‘CLXXXIX 40’ bottom centre.

Nicola Moorby
October 2009

How to cite

Nicola Moorby, ‘View of the Arch of Titus and the Temple of Venus and Roma, from the Arch of Constantine and the Meta Sudans, Rome 1819 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, October 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-the-arch-of-titus-and-the-temple-of-venus-and-roma-r1132485, accessed 17 February 2020.