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Works Thomas Girtin after Giovanni Battista Piranesi

The Arch of Janus, Rome

1799 - 1800

Primary Image: TG0885: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), after Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720–78), The Arch of Janus, Rome, 1799–1800, graphite and watercolour on laid paper, 21.1 × 31 cm, 8 ¼ × 12 ¼ in. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection (B1975.3.1035).

Photo courtesy of Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection (Public Domain)

Artist's source: Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720–78), etching, 'Tempio di Giano' (The Temple of Janus) for Alcune Vedute di Archi Trionfali ed Altri Monumenti (Some Views of Triumphal Arches and Other Monuments), 1748, 13 × 26 cm, 5 ⅛ × 10 ¼ in. British Museum, London (1926,0617.14.12).

Photo courtesy of The Trustees of the British Museum (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802) after Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720-1778)
  • The Arch of Janus, Rome
1799 - 1800
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on laid paper
21.1 × 31 cm, 8 ¼ × 12 ¼ in
Object Type
Studio Watercolour; Work from a Known Source: Foreign Master
Subject Terms
Italian View: Ancient Rome

Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
302 as 'Tempio di Diano'; '1798–9'
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001


J. Palser & Sons (stock no.13846); bought by George Wyndham Hog Girtin (1835–1911), 3 October 1895, as 'Paris'; then by descent to Thomas Girtin (1874–1960); given to Tom Girtin (1913–94), c.1938; bought by John Baskett on behalf of Paul Mellon (1907–99), 1970; presented to the Center, 1975

Exhibition History

Norwich, 1903, no.60 as ’Porta Nigra, Treves’; Sheffield, 1953, no.49; London, 1962a, no.147 as ’Tempio di Diano’; Manchester, 1975, no.50 as ’Arch of Janus, Rome, after Piranesi’; New Haven, 1986a, no.68; London, 2002, no.62


Davies, 1924, pl.74 as 'Temple of Diana, from an Etching by Piranesi'; Hardie, 1934, p.5; Mayne, 1949, p.104

About this Work

This watercolour, depicting the Roman Arch of Janus in Rome, is based on an etching by Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720–78) that was published in 1748 as plate eleven of Antichità Romane de’ Tempi della Repubblica, e de’ primi Imperatori (Roman Antiquities of the Time of the Republic and the First Emperors) (see the source image above). The etching was republished in 1765 in Archi Trionfali ed Altri Monumenti (Triumphal Arches and Other Monuments), where it was titled The Temple of Janus, though the structure is now thought to be a triumphal arch, built in the fourth century in the Forum Boarium. Girtin made three watercolours from Piranesi’s etchings for Antichità Romane or its reprint, including The Temple of Clitumnus (TG0887), which, as it has the same dimensions, may have been conceived as a pair to this work, as a well as the larger, unfinished The Temple of Augustus at Pula (TG0886), which appears to have been made at an earlier date. Piranesi made another very similar, though much larger, etching of the Temple of Janus for his Vedute di Roma (Views of Rome), and this was, in error, illustrated in the 2002 Girtin bicentenary exhibition catalogue as the source for this watercolour (Smith, 2002b, p.88). Girtin’s drawing clearly follows the smaller etching, which includes more of the Arco degli Argentari (Arch of the Money-Changers) to the left and shows the structure from a slightly different angle, though it does restore the full height of the arch, and so it is possible that the artist also had access to the other print, which depicts the whole of the structure.

The fact that Girtin included the superstructure of the arch in full is a little surprising since, to the left of the composition and in his other versions of Piranesi’s prints, the artist scrupulously followed the daring cut-offs that the great printmaker introduced into his architectural views in order to increase their dramatic impact. In this case, Girtin makes a feature of the looming form of the gateway reaching out to the left, helping to monumentalise what might otherwise have been a less than imposing sight. Such effects are a feature of the increasingly dramatic way that Girtin depicted his British architectural subjects, and Susan Morris has convincingly described the impact that Piranesi’s prints had on works such as An Interior View of the Ruins of Lindisfarne Priory Church (TG1107), which is dated 1797 (Morris, 1986, p.18). This watercolour and its pair probably postdate the Lindisfarne view, however. With its close stylistic links to a group of watercolours made from etchings after compositions by Marco Ricci (1676–1730) (such as TG1464), this work appears to have been executed independently from the copies of prints that Girtin produced for John Henderson (1764–1843), which also included a number after Piranesi. In other words, Girtin seems to have worked on a group of copies of prints by the most celebrated of his predecessors for sale on the open market, quite separate from the commissions he received from Henderson, and these were executed at a date when Piranesi’s influence had already worked its way into his compositions. The crucial point here is that whilst Girtin produced copies on commission from sketches and prints in the possession of a patron, others dating from around 1799–1800 were produced as a distinctive new commodity and, as with the architectural engravings that Girtin acquired during his trip to Paris, he may even have owned the source material that he transformed.

1799 - 1800

The Temple of Clitumnus


1797 - 1798

The Temple of Augustus at Pula in Istria



An Interior View of the Ruins of Lindisfarne Priory Church


1800 - 1801

A Classical Composition, with Figures Admiring the Sculptures


by Greg Smith

Place depicted

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