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

Rome: The Colosseum, from the Caelian Hill

1794 - 1797

Primary Image: TG0550: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802) and Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851), after (?) John Robert Cozens (1752–97), Rome: The Colosseum, from the Caelian Hill, 1794–97, graphite and watercolour on paper (watermark: J WHATMAN), 36.8 × 49.9 cm, 14 ½ × 19 ⅝ in. Private Collection.

Photo courtesy of Sotheby's (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802) and Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851) after (?) John Robert Cozens (1752-1797)
  • Rome: The Colosseum, from the Caelian Hill
1794 - 1797
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on paper (watermark: J WHATMAN)
36.8 × 49.9 cm, 14 ½ × 19 ⅝ in
Object Type
Collaborations; Monro School Copy
Subject Terms
Italian View: Ancient Rome

Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2008


Dr Thomas Monro (1759–1833); his posthumous sale, possibly Christie's, 27 June 1833, lot 93 as 'The coliseum ... sketches in blue and Indian ink, 12' by 'Turner'; bought by 'Moon, Boys', £6 10s; ... Walker’s Galleries, London, 1929–30; Thos. Agnew & Sons; Charles A. Baldwin; Archibald Bianchi; Louis Pappas, San Francisco (lent to Berkeley, 1975); Sotheby’s, 5 June 2008, lot 196 as 'View of the Colosseum, Rome' by Joseph Mallord William Turner

Exhibition History

Walker’s Galleries, 1930, no.163; Berkeley, 1975, no.3 as ’Attributed to J.M.W. Turner’

About this Work

This view of the Colosseum in Rome, looking north from the Caelian Hill, 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 the majority of the Roman views completed at Monro’s home, it has not been possible to trace the precise source for the image of Rome’s most famous monument, the Flavian Amphitheatre. However, even though only a small proportion of the sketches that John Robert Cozens (1752–97) made during his stay in Italy from November 1776 through to March 1779 survive, it is likely that one of the numerous ‘outlines or unfinished drawings’ that he executed during his time in Rome provided the model here. Monro’s posthumous sale contained only a few sketches by Cozens, but, as Kim Sloan has argued, the patron must have borrowed outlines or tracings from purchasers at the auction of the artist’s work held in July 1794, which included twenty-seven ‘books of sketches’ and many hundreds of drawings made on his travels (Sloan and Joyner, 1993, pp.81–82). Surprisingly, given the great monument’s popularity as a subject with artists and visitors to Rome, Cozens only produced two watercolours showing it, both from the less picturesque north side, and perhaps this encouraged Monro to commission a finished work for his collection. A second Monro School watercolour of the more ruined southern flank of the Colosseum, attributed just to Girtin, is much smaller in scale and employs a richer palette (TG0551). But it too excludes almost all of the surrounding monuments, with the effect that the ruins seem to inhabit, as here, a rural setting, which the presence of the rustic figures enhances.

The watercolour has hitherto been attributed solely to Turner, both at an auction in 2008 and at its last appearance at a public exhibition, in 1975. However, although the pencil work is quite reticent, if not strictly functional, lacking the inventive flourishes that mark Girtin’s contribution to the production of the best of the Monro School copies, there is nothing to suggest that Turner was responsible for executing the outlines as well as adding the colour washes. There is no evidence, therefore, that the work was not the outcome of the collaborative process that the two artists undertook elsewhere, albeit that it is arguably less successful than is commonly the case.

1794 - 1797

Rome: The Colosseum, with a Rider on a Track


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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