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

The Pyramid of Gaius Cestius, Rome

1794 - 1797

Primary Image: TG0544: (?) Thomas Girtin (1775–1802) and Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851), after (?) John Robert Cozens (1752–97), The Pyramid of Gaius Cestius, Rome, 1794–97, graphite and watercolour on wove paper, 17.9 × 21.7 cm, 7 × 8 ½ in. Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford (WA1934.204).

Photo courtesy of Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford (All Rights Reserved)

(?) Thomas Girtin (1775-1802) and Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851) after (?) John Robert Cozens (1752-1797)
  • The Pyramid of Gaius Cestius, Rome
1794 - 1797
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on wove paper
17.9 × 21.7 cm, 7 × 8 ½ in
Object Type
Collaborations; Monro School Copy
Subject Terms
Italian View: Ancient Rome

Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
Viewed in June 2021


Francis Pierrepont Barnard (1854–1931); his widow, Isabella Barnard; bequeathed to the Museum, 1934


Herrmann, 1968, no.98, p.107 as 'formerly attributed to J. M. W. Turner'; Ashmolean Collections Online as by an artist in the 'circle of Dr Thomas Monro (1759 – 1833), attributed to Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775 – 1851)’

About this Work

This watercolour of the pyramidal mausoleum of Gaius Cestius, part of the ancient walls of Rome, 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 precise source of this image of the spectacular mausoleum, which dates from 19 to 12 BC. 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 does not seem to have produced a studio watercolour of the scene, and perhaps this encouraged Monro to commission a finished work for his collection.

Although this work was attributed to Turner when it was acquired by the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, from the collection of Girtin’s descendant Francis Pierrepont Barnard (1854–1931), more recently this has been questioned and it has been listed as by an unknown artist in the ‘circle of Dr Thomas Monro’, whilst Girtin has not hitherto been associated with its production. However, there is just enough pencil work still evident, replete with Girtin’s characteristic marks, to be reasonably sure of his involvement. The co-authorship of Turner is arguably less secure, however. The manner in which the recession of the buildings and the distant column are handled is particularly troubling. However, the fact that the sky is carefully developed, in contrast to the majority of the Monro School subjects, combined with the quite complex build-up of tones in both the landscape and the architecture, suggests Turner’s involvement and that the sheet is therefore typical of 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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