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 Santuario di Ercole Vincitore 1819

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Folio 16 Recto:
View of Tivoli from the Valley, with the Santuario di Ercole Vincitore 1819
Turner Bequest CLXXXIII 16
Pencil and grey watercolour wash on white wove paper, 200 x 253 mm
Stamped in black ‘CLXXXIII 16’ 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. This drawing depicts the ruins of the Santuario di Ercole Vincitore (Sanctuary of Hercules Victor), a large temple complex dating from the first century BC, seen from the opposite site of the gorge. The vista looks east, past the long arcades of the Santuario, towards the campanile of the Cathedral (Duomo) of San Lorenzo, the substructures supporting the Piazza dell’Olmo (present-day Piazza Domenico Tani) and a medieval watch-tower situated at the northern tip of the town. Visible above the right-hand side of the temple is the sixteenth-century garden and casino of the Villa d’Este, with its tall cypress trees. The left-hand side of the composition meanwhile is dominated by an olive grove, characteristic of the woods surrounding the town. 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 depict the texture of the trees and the silvery streams of the falling cascatelli (or cascatelle), the lesser cascades emerging beneath the substructures of the temple. He has further enhanced the dramatic chiaroscuro by darkening the arcades beneath the Santuario with vigorous shading and hatched lines. Turner’s interest in the twisted, gnarled forms of the tree trunks clinging to the steep slopes, as well as the tonal study of light and shade, is reminiscent of watercolour landscapes by Francis Towne (1739–1816), for example, Rocks and Trees at Tivoli 1781 (Tate, T08552).1
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.2
Turner made notes on this passage in the Italian Guide Book sketchbook (see Tate D13952; Turner Bequest CLXXII 11a). The Santuario features in many of his 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 folio 5 (D15471). Similar views with the cascatelli can be seen on folios 7, 8, 21, 26, and 41a (D15473, D15474, D15487, D15493 and D15509), and in the Tivoli and Rome sketchbook (Tate D15033; Turner Bequest CLXXIX 57 verso). It was the prospect 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).
See Timothy Wilcox, Francis Towne, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1997, no.25, pp.72–4, reproduced in colour.
John Chetwode Eustace, A Classical Tour Through Italy, London 1815, 3rd edition, vol.II, pp.237–9.
Blank, except for traces of grey watercolour wash
Inscribed by ?John Ruskin in red ink ‘344’ bottom left, and by unknown hand(s) in pencil ‘399’ centre and ‘clxxxiii-16?’ bottom left

Nicola Moorby
February 2010

How to cite

Nicola Moorby, ‘View of Tivoli from the Valley, with the Santuario di Ercole Vincitore 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-tivoli-from-the-valley-with-the-santuario-di-ercole-r1137758, accessed 20 May 2024.