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Works Thomas Girtin and (?) Joseph Mallord William Turner after (?) John Robert Cozens

An Entrance to the Roman Amphitheatre at Capua

1794 - 1797

Primary Image: TG0668: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802) and (?) Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851), after (?) John Robert Cozens (1752–97), An Entrance to the Roman Amphitheatre at Capua, 1794–97, graphite and watercolour on wove paper, 32.6 × 45 cm, 12 ⅞ × 17 ¾ in. Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford (WA1931.10).

Photo courtesy of Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802) and (?) Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851) after (?) John Robert Cozens (1752-1797)
  • An Entrance to the Roman Amphitheatre at Capua
1794 - 1797
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on wove paper
32.6 × 45 cm, 12 ⅞ × 17 ¾ in
Object Type
Collaborations; Monro School Copy
Subject Terms
Italian View: Naples and Environs

Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
Viewed in June 2021


Dr Thomas Monro (1759–1833); his posthumous sale, possibly Christie's, 27 June 1833, lot 93 as 'The coliseum, the gate, and amphitheatre at Capua, &c. sketches in blue and Indian ink 12' by 'Turner'; bought by 'Moon, Boys', £6 10s; ... Dr Crawford J. Pocock (1840–90); Herbert William Underdown (1864–1944); Arthur Edward Anderson (c.1871–1938); presented to the Museum through the National Art-Collections Fund, 1931


Underdown, 1923, unpaginated, as by Joseph Mallord William Turner; Herrmann, 1968, no.97, p.106 as 'formerly attributed to J. M. W. Turner'; Ashmolean Collections Online as by an artist in the 'circle of Dr Thomas Monro (1759 – 1833), formerly attributed to Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775 – 1851)’ (Accessed 08/09/2022)

About this Work

This view of one of the entrances to the great amphitheatre of ancient Capua, now Santa Maria Capua Vetere, displays many of the signs that mark the unique collaboration between Girtin and his contemporary Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851) at the home of Dr Thomas Monro (1759–1833). Here they were employed across three winters, probably between 1794 and 1797, to make ‘finished drawings’ from the ‘Copies’ of the ‘outlines or unfinished drawings of Cozens’ and other artists, amateur and professional, either from Monro’s collection or lent for the purpose. As the two young artists later recalled, Girtin generally ‘drew in outlines and Turner washed in the effects’. ‘They went at 6 and staid till Ten’, which may account for the generally monochrome appearance of the works, and, as the diarist Joseph Farington (1747–1821) reported, Turner received ‘3s. 6d each night’, though ‘Girtin did not say what He had’ (Farington, Diary, 12 November 1798).1

As with many of the Monro School drawings of Italian scenes, it has not been possible to trace the source of this view of one of the most attractive parts of the ruins of the amphitheatre at Capua. But, as generally seems to have been the case, it is likely to have been a sketch made by John Robert Cozens (1752–97) on one of his visits to Naples, either in 1777 or in 1782–83. Cozens took an interior view of the amphitheatre in 1782, and this was used as the basis for a Monro School subject (TG0733), so that, although there is a temptation to associate larger copies, such as this, with Cozens’ sketches from the earlier tour, this is unlikely to be the case here. The auction of the artist’s work held in July 1794 contained twenty-seven ‘books of sketches’ and many hundreds of drawings made on his travels, and, as Kim Sloan has argued, given that Monro’s posthumous sale included only a few sketches by Cozens, the patron must have borrowed the bulk of the material from which Girtin and Turner worked, though in this case it has either been lost or remains unrecognised (Sloan and Joyner, 1993, pp.81–82).2

Façade of the Amphitheatre at Capua

The large and impressive remains of the amphitheatre at Capua were surprisingly little studied by artists in the eighteenth century, even though the construction of the structure predated the similarly sized Colosseum in Rome, possibly providing the model for the more famous monument. A striking exception to this neglect was catalogued by the Department of Greek and Roman Antiquities at the British Museum in 2010 (see figure 1) and takes the form of a pencil drawing by an anonymous artist of precisely the same view as the Monro School watercolour and with identical measurements, though it appears to have been made a generation earlier. Overlaying images of the two works displays a surprising, and very striking, congruence of forms that cannot be accounted for by two artists from different periods coincidentally sharing the same position to make an on-the-spot sketch. It has not been possible to work out the precise relationship between the two drawings, but at this stage I suspect that both are based on a lost original sketch by Cozens. However, it is possible that it was the drawing in the British Museum that Monro provided for his young artists to copy, and, as long as the Cozens sketch remains untraced, this suggestion cannot be dismissed.

The majority of the Italian scenes sold at Monro’s posthumous sale were attributed to Turner alone, and this generally remained the case until the publication of Andrew Wilton’s pioneering article in 1984, since when the joint attribution of the Monro School works to Turner and Girtin has increasingly become the norm (Wilton, 1984a, pp.8–23). In this case, however, although the attribution to Turner has long been questioned, no consideration has been given to Girtin’s involvement in the work’s production. This is particularly surprising given that the pencil work features many of Girtin’s characteristic touches – inventive marks and delicately modulated lines punctuated with sharper points of emphasis. Indeed, I am inclined to go a stage further and suggest that the addition of washes of watercolour is also the work of Girtin. The economical use of broad, almost abstract blocks of colour to articulate the shaded areas of the masonry, leaving large areas of the paper untouched for the highlights, is entirely characteristic of Girtin’s work around 1797 and is comparable to what is seen in another Monro School work that I have attributed solely to him, Vallombrosa Abbey (TG0669). Looking at the issue of authorship from another angle, I cannot detect any evidence of Turner’s hand in the work’s production, and it is consequently tempting to associate it with one of the ten ‘views in Italy’ by Girtin that appeared in Monro’s sale (Exhibitions: Christie’s, 28 June 1833, lots 156, 160 and 163; Christie’s, 1 July 1833, lot 10). Two of these were specified as being ‘after Cozens’, suggesting that there are potentially more examples of Girtin working alone at Monro’s home than have so far been established.

Image Overlay

1794 - 1797

The Amphitheatre at Capua


1797 - 1798

Vallombrosa Abbey


by Greg Smith

Place depicted


  1. 1 The full diary entry, giving crucial details of the artists’ work at Monro’s house, is transcribed in the Documents section of the Archive (1798 – Item 2).
  2. 2 A full record of the sale is available in the Documents section of the Archive (1794 – Item 1)

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