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

Rome: The Ruined Nymphaeum of Alexander Severus, Known as the Temple of Minerva Medica

1794 - 1797

Primary Image: TG0549: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802) and Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851), after (?) John Robert Cozens (1752–97), Rome: The Ruined Nymphaeum of Alexander Severus, Known as the Temple of Minerva Medica, 1794–97, graphite and watercolour on wove paper (watermark: J WHATMAN), 21.7 × 23.4 cm, 8 ½ × 9 ¼ in. Tate, Turner Bequest CCCLXXVI, 6 (D36565).

Photo courtesy of Tate (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802) and Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851) after (?) John Robert Cozens (1752-1797)
  • Rome: The Ruined Nymphaeum of Alexander Severus, Known as the Temple of Minerva Medica
1794 - 1797
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on wove paper (watermark: J WHATMAN)
21.7 × 23.4 cm, 8 ½ × 9 ¼ in

'Minerva Medica' on the back, by (?) Thomas Giritn

Object Type
Collaborations; Monro School Copy
Subject Terms
Italian View: Ancient Rome

Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
Viewed in January 2018


Dr Thomas Monro (1759–1833); his posthumous sale, possibly Christie's, 2 July 1833, lot 126 as 'The Temple of Minerva Medica. 2'; bought by 'Moon, Boys', £2 6s; Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851); accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest, 1856


Finberg, 1909, vol.2, p.1237 as 'The Temple of Minerva Medica' by Thomas Girtin; Turner Online as 'Rome: The Ruined Nymphaeum of Alexander Severus ('Temple of Minerva Medica')' by Joseph Mallord William Turner and Thomas Girtin (Accessed 07/09/2022)

About this Work

This watercolour view of a ruined garden grotto dedicated to the watery nymphs, known erroneously as the Temple of Minerva Medica, 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.

As with the majority of the Roman views completed at Monro’s home, it has not been possible to trace the source for the image of the famous monument to the south east of the city. 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 highly 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 monument’s popularity as a subject with artists and visitors to Rome, Cozens produced just one watercolour of a distant view of the famous ‘temple’, and perhaps this encouraged Monro to commission a finished work for his collection. Francis Towne (1739–1816) is just one of a number of contemporary British artists who depicted the so-called temple (Towne Online, FT216), though none include the attractive detail of the twin cypress trees seen through the central opening.

There is a tendency to ascribe the more colourful and highly finished Monro School landscapes solely to Turner, not least because the underlying pencil work is sometimes effaced. In this case, despite the richly worked multiple washes added by Turner, amounting in some areas to an unprecedented three layers, Girtin’s fine pencil work can still be seen showing through. The fact that the sky and various light effects are carefully developed, in contrast to 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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