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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner View of the Baths of Caracalla, from the Palatine Hill, Rome 1819

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
View of the Baths of Caracalla, from the Palatine Hill, Rome 1819
Turner Bequest CLXXXIX 8
Pencil, pen and ink, watercolour, gouache and grey watercolour wash on white wove ‘Whatman’ paper 227 x 368 mm
Stamped in black ‘CLXXXIX 8’ bottom right
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
The Palatine Hill was one of the most popular vantage points in Rome and Turner made a large number of studies from the location, recording prospects of the city seen in all directions. This coloured study depicts the view looking south-east towards the Baths of Caracalla, a large ruined complex of ‘thermae’, or public baths dating from 206 AD.1 On an area of high ground to the right of the Baths can be seen the Church of Santa Balbina on the Aventine Hill, whilst in the distance to the left is the Porta San Sebastiano, the gate which leads from the Aurelian Walls to the Via Appia. As Thomas Ashby identified, the two towers visible in the middle distance to the left of the Baths belong to the churches of San Sisto Vecchio (near) and San Giovanni a Porta Latina (further back), and the group of trees on the far left-hand side are pines in the grounds of the Villa Mattei.2 Ashby also described how the view depicted by Turner was transformed by the construction of the Passeggiata Archeologica, or Zona Monumentale, a wide avenue built in the valley between the Caelian, Aventine and Palatine Hills in 1907–14.3 A similar prospect from Santa Balbina can be found on another page from this sketchbook (see Tate D16373; Turner Bequest CLXXXIX 45).
Like many studies within this sketchbook, the composition has been executed in pencil over a grey washed ground. Turner has also substantially worked up the scene with watercolour and gouache to introduce a feeling of atmospheric effect to the scene. The application of paint varies considerably across the work, utilising both wet and dry pigment. The archictecture and the mountains for example have been described carefully with tonal modulations, whilst for the textured foliage in the foreground the brushwork is looser, freerer and more energetic. In the sky he has achieved a subtle herringbone effect by washing a thin, liquid layer of blue swiftly across the grey sheet and lifting the wet paint to create a sense of pattern and movement. Unusually he has also used touches of pen and ink to define the outlines of trees and buildings, particularly in the bottom right-hand corner.
Christopher Hibbert, Rome: The Biography of a City, London 1985, p.326.
Ashby 1925, p.27.
Blank, except for traces of watercolour; inscribed by an unknown hand(s) in pencil ‘CLXXXIX 8’ bottom centre and ‘8’ encircled, centre, and stamped in black ‘CLXXXIX 8’ bottom centre.

Nicola Moorby
July 2009

How to cite

Nicola Moorby, ‘View of the Baths of Caracalla, from the Palatine Hill, Rome 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-the-baths-of-caracalla-from-the-palatine-hill-rome-r1132457, accessed 21 June 2024.