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

An Unidentified Building, Known as 'The Capuchin Convent near Nemi'

1794 - 1797

Primary Image: TG0625: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802) and Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851), after (?) John Robert Cozens (1752–97), An Unidentified Building, Known as 'The Capuchin Convent near Nemi', 1794–97, graphite and watercolour on wove paper, on an early mount, 21 × 26.9 cm, 8 ¼ × 10 ⅝ in. Tate, Turner Bequest CCCLXXIII, 1 (D36414 ).

Photo courtesy of Tate (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802) and Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851) after (?) John Robert Cozens (1752-1797)
  • An Unidentified Building, Known as 'The Capuchin Convent near Nemi'
1794 - 1797
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on wove paper, on an early mount
21 × 26.9 cm, 8 ¼ × 10 ⅝ in
Mount Dimensions
36.3 × 49.5 cm, 14 ¼ × 19 ½ in

‘The Capuchin Convent / near Nemi’ on the back, by Thomas Girtin (pasted down, but transcribed on the lower right of the mount)

Part of
Object Type
Monro School Copy
Subject Terms
Italian View: The Roman Campagna

Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
Viewed in November 2017


Dr Thomas Monro (1759–1833); his posthumous sale, Christie's, 28 June 1833, lot 78 as 'A book containing 62 interesting sketches in the neighbourhood of Rome and Naples, by Turner, in Indian ink and blue'; bought by Thomas Griffith on behalf of Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851), £21; accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest, 1856


Finberg, 1909, vol.2, p.1226 as 'The Capuchin Convent near Nemi' by Thomas Girtin; Turner Online as 'The Capuchin Convent near Nemi' by Joseph Mallord William Turner and Thomas Girtin. (Accessed 07/09/2022)

About this Work

This view of an unidentified building near Nemi in central Italy is mounted in an album of watercolours bought by Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851) at the posthumous sale of Dr Thomas Monro (1759–1833) (Exhibitions: Christie’s, 28 June 1833, lot 78). The sixty-four drawings were the outcome of a unique collaboration between Girtin and Turner working together at Monro’s London home at the Adelphi. Here the artists 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 views of the Roman Campagna completed at Monro’s home, it has not been possible to trace the source of this image. In general, Girtin and Turner worked from compositions by John Robert Cozens (1752–97) and, more specifically, from sketches and tracings that he made during or after his stay in Italy from November 1776 through to March 1779. 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 much of the material from which Girtin and Turner worked (Sloan and Joyner, 1993, pp.81–82). In this case, as is all too common, the sketch either has not survived or has not been recognised as Cozens’ work.

The Terrace of the Capuchin Monastery at Genzano

The identity of the building shown in the Monro School view is also far from certain, despite the fact that Girtin himself inscribed the back of the drawing ‘The Capuchin Convent near Nemi’. The Capuchin convent, with the church of San Francesco attached, is actually close to nearby Genzano, rather than Nemi, and it bears no resemblance to the building shown here. It is probable, therefore, either that the original inscription copied by Girtin was incorrect or that he introduced a transcription error, perhaps omitting the word ‘lake’. A view of Genzano on Lake Nemi by Richard Wilson (1713/14–82) titled The Terrace of the Capuchin Monastery at Genzano (see figure 1) may hold the key, however, as it appears to show the same building seen in the Monro School work, the Palazzo Sforza Cesarini. There are two problems with this idea, however. Firstly, the building seems to have been reversed in the Monro School view and, secondly, it is shown from much closer to and from a point below. There are enough examples of Monro School drawings reversing the source material to answer the first objection, but the second is more problematic. There are no views of the Capuchin monastery by Cozens’ contemporaries that might identify the building here as the convent in an earlier, different state, and so in the end I am inclined to believe that the substantial structure depicted by Girtin and Turner is the Palazzo Sforza Cesarini after all, albeit with reservations.

The album containing the drawing was sold in 1833 as the work of Turner, but the cataloguer of the Turner Bequest, Alexander Finberg, thought that Girtin alone was responsible for the watercolours, whilst more recently Andrew Wilton has established their joint authorship (Finberg, 1909, vol.2, p.1226; Wilton, 1984a, pp.8–23). Identifying the division of labour within Monro School drawings is considerably helped, as here, when the colour washes leave much of the pencil work showing through. Girtin’s inventive and fluent hand is thus clearly apparent under Turner’s simple palette of blues and greys, and this is particularly true in the case of the three figures, which are enlivened by just a few touches that perfectly complement Girtin’s typically economical line.

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).

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