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

Rome: The Castle of St Angelo

1794 - 1797

Primary Image: TG0545: (?) Thomas Girtin (1775–1802) and Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851), after (?) John Robert Cozens (1752–97), Rome: The Castle of St Angelo, 1794–97, graphite and watercolour on wove paper, 23.5 × 28.9 cm, 9 ¼ × 11 ⅜ in. Victoria and Albert Museum, London (1636-1888).

Photo courtesy of Victoria & Albert Museum, London Victoria & Albert Museum, London (All Rights Reserved)

(?) Thomas Girtin (1775-1802) and Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851) after (?) John Robert Cozens (1752-1797)
  • Rome: The Castle of St Angelo
1794 - 1797
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on wove paper
23.5 × 28.9 cm, 9 ¼ × 11 ⅜ in
Object Type
Collaborations; Monro School Copy
Subject Terms
Italian View: Ancient Rome

Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2018


Lambourne and Hamilton, 1980, p.384 as by Joseph Mallord William Turner; V&A Collections Online as 'attributed to J. M. W. Turner' (Accessed 07/09/2022)

About this Work

This watercolour of the great mausoleum of Hadrian, built between AD 134 and AD 139 and later converted into Rome’s citadel, 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’, 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 The need to work by candlelight may account for the generally monochrome appearance of the Monro School works, though, as here, the smaller examples tend to be more colourful and highly finished.

Vedute di Roma (Views of Rome)

As with the majority of the Roman views completed at Monro’s home, it has not been possible to trace the precise source of this image of one of the ancient city’s most spectacular sights. John Robert Cozens (1752–97) painted a watercolour of the Castle of St Angelo, as the monument is now known after its conversion in the Renaissance period, but the view dating from 1780 is from a different, more conventional angle. Indeed, although the central motif may have been copied from one of the sketches that Cozens made during his stay in Italy from November 1776 through to March 1779, a comparison with another view of the castle taken from the same direction, the north west, shows that the Monro School watercolour departs from its appearance in the eighteenth century. An etching by Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720–78) clearly shows how the central tower is linked to one of four monumental bastions and how the elevated archway to the right, known as the Passetto di Borgo, joins it and not the castle itself (see figure 1). There are, I suggest, two possible reasons for the anomaly seen in the Monro School image. Firstly, Turner, following Girtin’s outline, may have created what is in effect a capriccio, an imaginary view of the monument in a pre-excavation state with the bastion all but hidden away and with a sole figure clearing away the soil in a desultory manner. Secondly, perhaps Girtin worked from an outline sketch that, in concentrating on the architectural details of the castle motif, left the foreground bastion and the archway to the right vague and undeveloped. The differences between the two views would therefore be the outcome of a simple misinterpretation of incomplete evidence.

There is a tendency to ascribe the more colourful and highly finished Monro School landscapes solely to Turner, not least because any underlying pencil work is often effaced. This work has always been attributed to Turner, but arguably there is just enough inventive and fluent pencil work still evident to suggest that Girtin was involved in its production: the figure under the arch to the right is even left untouched by Turner’s washes. The fact that the sky is carefully developed, in contrast to the skies in the majority of the Monro School subjects, does not mean that the composition did not begin with the production of a replica of a comparatively slight source, therefore, and I can see no compelling reason to believe that more fully worked sheets such as this depart from the artists’ customary collaborative practice.

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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