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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner View of the Santuario di Ercole Vincitore, Tivoli, from the Ruins of the Villa of Quintilius Varus 1819

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Folio 23 Recto:
View of the Santuario di Ercole Vincitore, Tivoli, from the Ruins of the Villa of Quintilius Varus 1819
Turner Bequest LXXXIII 23
Pencil and grey watercolour wash on white wove paper, 200 x 253 mm
Inscribed by ?John Ruskin in pencil ‘23’ bottom right, descending right-hand edge
Stamped in black ‘CLXXXIII 25’ bottom left, descending left-hand edge
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner’s exploration of Tivoli included a large number of landscape sketches drawn from the river valley to the north. He was particularly attracted by the spectacle of the town’s ancient ruins perched above the steep, wooded gorge and streaming waterfalls. As Thomas Ashby first identified, this drawing depicts a view from the ruins of the Villa of Quintilius Varus, adjacent to the Santuario di Quintiliolo (Church of the Madonna of Quintiliolo) situated on the northern slopes of the valley.1 Remnants of the foundations as well as broken fragments of masonry can be seen amidst the trees within the foreground. The vista looks south-east towards the opposite side of ravine and the ruins of the Santuario di Ercole Vincitore (Sanctuary of Hercules Victor), a large temple complex dating from the first century BC, formerly known as the Villa of Maecenas. Visible to the right of the Santuario is the so-called Tempio della Tosse (Temple of the Cough), an ancient circular ruin believed to be the vestibule of a Roman villa. Like many drawings within this sketchbook, the composition has been executed over a washed grey background. Turner has created highlights within the work by rubbing or lifting out the wash to reveal the white paper beneath, principally to delineate the trees, the temple, and the silvery streams of the falling cascatelli (or cascatelle), the lesser cascades emerging beneath. He has further enhanced the dramatic chiaroscuro by darkening area of deep shadow with vigorous shading and hatched lines.
The Santuario di Ercole Vincitore was one of Tivoli’s most famous landmarks and its picturesque qualities had made it a popular subject for artists. Revd John Chetwode Eustace in A Classical Tour Through Italy, first published in 1813, recommended the view from the opposite side of the valley where ‘the towers of the town rising on the top of the hill beyond the cascade, with the ruins of Maecenas’s villa on its shelving side, form one of the most delicious pictures for softness and beauty, wildness and animation, that can be imagined.’2 He described the temple as Turner would have seen it:
Maecenas’s villa [Santuario di Ercole Vincitore] stands at the extremity of the town on the brow of the hill and hangs over several streamlets which fall down the steep. It commands a noble view of the Anio [Aniene] and its vale beneath, the hills of Albano and Monticelli, the Campagna, and Rome itself rising on the borders of the horizon. It still presents several traces of its former magnificence, such as a triple row of arches, seventeen below and fourteen above ... The active Cardinal Ruffo during the reign of the late pontiff, turned it into a foundry, after having stripped the walls and the roof of the ivy, and effaced the venerable marks of ruin which the hand of time had shed over them. A branch of the river pours through the arched gallery and vaulted cellars, and shaking the edifice as it passes along, rushes in several sheets down the declivity.3
The ruin features in many of Turner’s 1819 sketches looking both up and down the valley, and he also made detailed tonal studies of the architecture and the arched passageway underneath the substructures, see folio 5 (D15471). A similar view from the Villa of Quintilius Varus can be seen on folio 17 (D15483). It was the vista from the north-east, however, which seems to have held the most enduring visual appeal for the artist and which was ultimately developed within more finished work, see folio 3 (D15469).
Ashby 1914, p.247 and Ashby 1925, p.31.
John Chetwode Eustace, A Classical Tour Through Italy, London 1815, 3rd edition, vol.II, pp.237–9.
Ibid., pp.240–1.
Blank, except for traces of grey watercolour wash
Inscribed by ?John Ruskin in red ink ‘354’ bottom left, and by unknown hand(s) in pencil ‘397’ top right, and ‘clxxxiii-23?’ bottom left

Nicola Moorby
February 2010

How to cite

Nicola Moorby, ‘View of the Santuario di Ercole Vincitore, Tivoli, from the Ruins of the Villa of Quintilius Varus 1819 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, February 2010, 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-santuario-di-ercole-vincitore-tivoli-from-the-r1137765, accessed 19 May 2024.