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 33
Pencil and traces of watercolour on white wove paper, 255 x 404 mm
Inscribed by John Ruskin in blue ink ‘33’ bottom right, descending right-hand edge
Stamped in black ‘CLXXXVII 33’ bottom right
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. This study depicts the prospect looking south-west from a point near the floor 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. Also visible on the far right-hand side is the small domed ruin known as the Tempio della Tosse, and 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 artist’s 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 (1752–97), 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. Turner made a coloured study of a similar composition in this sketchbook (D16120; Turner Bequest CLXXXVII 32), and related sketches can also be seen 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
Unlike the related view in watercolour, or the tonal studies on grey watercolour wash elsewhere in this sketchbook, Turner’s focus here is the accurate mapping of Tivoli’s topography with little indication of naturalistic or atmospheric effects. John Ruskin described the quality of the Tivoli sketches from nature as ‘unsurpassable’.4
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.
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.), vol.XIII, p.379.
Technical notes:
Long detached from the Naples, Rome C. Studies sketchbook, this sheet was perhaps once folio 33 (see the concordance in the introduction). There is another drawing, not recorded by Finberg, on the verso (D41514).

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-r1132381, accessed 21 May 2024.