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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner View of Tivoli from the Valley, with the Cascatelli and the Santuario di Ercole Vincitore 1819

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
View of Tivoli from the Valley, with the Cascatelli and the Santuario di Ercole Vincitore 1819
Turner Bequest CLXXXVII 32
Watercolour and pencil on white wove paper, 253 x 405 mm
Inscribed by unknown hands in blue ink ‘32’ bottom right, descending right-hand edge, and in pencil ‘54’ bottom right
Stamped in black ‘CLXXXVI 32’ bottom right
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
This is one of only two watercolour studies of Tivoli dating from Turner’s 1819 tour of Italy, and represents the edge of the town seen from the river valley to the north. The artist was particularly attracted by the spectacle of the town’s ancient ruins perched above the steep, wooded gorge and streaming waterfalls. This view depicts the prospect looking south-west from the road which skirts the end of the valley. On the left-hand side are the cascatelli (or cascatelle), the lesser cascades caused by a branch of the River Aniene emerging from an underground passage at the top of the slopes at the northern tip of the town. The vista rises to a medieval watch-tower, situated near the Piazza dell’Olmo (present-day Piazza Domenico Tani) and the campanile of the Cathedral (Duomo) of San Lorenzo. Silhouetted along the top of the slope at the centre of the middle distance are the long arcades of the Santuario di Ercole Vincitore (Sanctuary of Hercules the Victor), a first-century BC Roman temple dedicated to the cult of Hercules. In the far distance is the flat, open plain of the Roman Campagna.
Formerly known as the Villa of Maecenas, the Santuario di Ercole Vincitore was one of Tivoli’s most famous landmarks. Its picturesque qualities were described by Revd John Chetwode Eustace who, in A Classical Tour Through Italy, first published in 1813, recommended the view from the opposite side of the valley:
As the traveller, following the bend of the hill, comes to the side of the road opposite to the town, he catches first a side glimpse, and shortly after a full view of the Cascatelli, or lesser cascades, inferior in mass and grandeur, but equal in beauty to the great fall in the town. They are formed by a branch of the Anio turned off from the main body of the river, before it reaches the precipice, for the uses of the inhabitants, and after it has crossed the town bursting from a wood on the summit of the hill, and then tumbling from its brow in one great and several lesser streams, first down one and then another declivity, through thickets and brambles spangled with dew drops or lighted up with a rainbow. The elevation and mass of these cascades; the colours and broken masses of the rocks down which they tumble; the shrubs, plants and brambles that hang over the channel and sometimes bathe themselves in the current; the river below fretting through a narrow pass under a natural arch; the olives that shade that arch, and the vines that wave around it; the bold bendings and easy sweeps of the surrounding mountains; and 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.1
Turner made notes on this passage in the Italian Guide Book sketchbook (see Tate D13952; Turner Bequest CLXXII 11a). He would also have been familiar with other artists’ depictions of the temple. Compositional precedents for the view include John ‘Warwick’ Smith (1749–1831), Villa of Mecenas, an engraved plate from the publication Select Views in Italy, which Turner copied in the Italian Guide Book sketchbook (see Tate D13966; Turner Bequest CLXXII19), and a watercolour by John Robert Cozens (1752–1797), which Turner studied as a young man, see Tivoli, Villa of Maecenas, after John Robert Cozens ?circa 1794–7 (Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens, San Marino, California). Compare also a contemporaneous drawing by James Hakewill (1778–1843), Villa of Maecenas and Cascatelle. Tivoli 1816 (British School at Rome Library), engraved for Hakewill’s Picturesque Tour of Italy, published in 1819.2
The temple 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 ruin’s substructures (see for example Tate D15486; Turner Bequest CLXXXIII 20). It was the vista from the north-east however, which seems to have held the greatest visual appeal. Similar views can be found within this sketchbook (D16121; Turner Bequest CLXXXVII 33), as well as in the Tivoli and Rome sketchbook (D15013–D15014, D15018, D15025, D15029–D15030; Turner Bequest CLXXIX 46a–7, 48a, 53a, 55a–56), and in the Tivoli sketchbook (Tate D41397, D15469, D15506; Turner Bequest CLXXXIII verso of 1, 3 and 39). Turner later considered developing the view for the Tivoli vignette illustration for Rogers’s Italy, 1830 (see Tate D27605; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 88), and ultimately revisited it within an oil sketch, Tivoli, the Cascatelle circa 1827–8 (Tate, N03388) and an unfinished painting, Tivoli: Tobias and the Angel circa 1835 (Tate, N02067).3
It has been suggested in the past that Turner’s Tivoli watercolours were probably executed outside, directly from the motif.4 However, as Cecilia Powell has discussed, there is no evidence that the artist actually painted in the open air during his time in Italy. Several contemporary sources testify that his preference was for drawing on the spot and for colouring indoors away from the motif, since it took up ‘too much time to colour in the open-air’ and ‘he could make 15 or 16 pencil sketches to one colored’.5 It seems more likely therefore, that the basic outline of the composition was first sketched in pencil, possibly on-the-spot, and that the watercolour was added later from memory.6 Turner’s use of watercolour here is similar that of his coloured studies of the Roman Campagna in the same sketchbook (see D16122; Turner Bequest CLXXXVII 34). The lush, wooded hills have been created with a wide variety of textural effects including loose wash, energetic brushwork, and the application of the paint with fingers and a dry brush. The artist has also left areas of white paper blank, principally to depict the winding course of the river along the floor of the valley, and has scratched out highlights to indicate spray amidst the cascades on the left. By contrast, the sky and distant countryside are comprised of limpid wet-in-wet washes with bands of colour suffused into one another. The use of blue to describe distant buildings and the haze over the far horizon recalls the atmospheric effects of aerial perspective which characterise much of the work of Claude Lorrain.
John Ruskin described Turner’s sketches from nature in Tivoli as ‘unsurpassable’ and selected this watercolour as one of the works recommended to students for study.7 In a letter to the artist and expert copyist, William Ward (1829–1908), he wrote ‘I hold for the Tivoli [i.e. D16120] ... People who looked at that, must learn’.8 Ward executed a copy of this, and other Turners, to be placed in the Manchester Art Museum for didactic purposes.9 Meanwhile studies of the watercolour by Hercules Brabazon Brabazon (1821–1906) can also be found in the collection of the Indianapolis Museum of Art,10 and in the British Museum.11
John Chetwode Eustace, A Classical Tour Through Italy, London 1815, 3rd edition, vol.II, pp.237–9.
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, no.5.3, p.226, reproduced.
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, nos.311 and 437.
See for example Wilton 1975, p.19.
Letter to John Soane from his son, 15 November 1819, quoted in Powell 1987, p.50.
Powell 1984, p.175 and Powell 1987, p.78.
John Ruskin, Catalogue of the Drawings and Sketches by J.M.W. Turner at Present Exhibited in the National Gallery, Orpington 1881, in Cook and Wedderburn (eds.) 1904, vol.XIII, p.379.
John Ruskin, letter to William Ward, 28 July 1880, reproduced in Cook and Wedderburn (eds.) 1909, vol.XXXVII, p.319.
Krause 1997, pp.254–5, reproduced in colour.
Technical notes:
Long detached from the Naples, Rome C. Studies sketchbook, this sheet was perhaps once folio 32 (see the concordance in the introduction).
Blank, save for inscriptions by unknown hands in pencil ‘23’ centre, ‘CLXXXVII.32’ and ‘D16120’ bottom right; stamped in black ‘CLXXXVII 32’ bottom centre.

Nicola Moorby
March 2010

How to cite

Nicola Moorby, ‘View of Tivoli from the Valley, with the Cascatelli and the Santuario di Ercole Vincitore 1819 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, March 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-tivoli-from-the-valley-with-the-cascatelli-and-the-r1132380, accessed 22 May 2024.