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

The Ripa Grande, Site of the Ancient Port of Rome, in an Imaginary Setting

1794 - 1797

Primary Image: TG0556: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802) and Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851), after (?) John Robert Cozens (1752–97), The Ripa Grande, Site of the Ancient Port of Rome, in an Imaginary Setting, 1794–97, graphite and watercolour on wove paper, on an early mount, 18.1 × 27.4 cm, 7 ⅛ × 10 ¾ in. Tate, Turner Bequest CCCLXXIII, 33 (D36446).

Photo courtesy of Tate (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802) and Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851) after (?) John Robert Cozens (1752-1797)
  • The Ripa Grande, Site of the Ancient Port of Rome, in an Imaginary Setting
1794 - 1797
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on wove paper, on an early mount
18.1 × 27.4 cm, 7 ⅛ × 10 ¾ in
Mount Dimensions
36.3 × 49.5 cm, 14 ¼ × 19 ½ in
Part of
Object Type
Collaborations; Monro School Copy
Subject Terms
Italian View: Modern Rome

Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
Viewed in November 2017


Dr Thomas Monro (1759–1833); his posthumous sale, Christie's, 28 June 1833, lot 78 as ‘A book containing 62 interesting sketches in the neighbourhood of Rome and Naples, by Turner, in Indian ink and blue’; bought by Thomas Griffith on behalf of Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851), £21; accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest, 1856


Finberg, 1909, vol.2, p.1228 as 'Palace beside river' by Thomas Girtin; Turner Online as 'A Large Building by a River or Lake with Steps Leading down to the Water' by Joseph Mallord William Turner and Thomas Girtin (Accessed 07/09/2022)

About this Work

This view of the site of the ancient port of Rome, the Ripa Grande, is mounted in an album of watercolours bought by Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851) at the posthumous sale of Dr Thomas Monro (1759–1833) (Exhibitions: Christie’s, 28 June 1833, lot 78). The sixty-four drawings were the outcome of a unique collaboration between Girtin and Turner working together at Monro’s London home at the Adelphi. Here the artists 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 Italian views in Monro’s album, it has not been possible to trace the exact source of the work, though we can say with some certainty that, for once, it was not copied after a composition by John Robert Cozens (1752–97). The Ripa Grande was redeveloped at the beginning of the eighteenth century and these are the grand buildings depicted by Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720–78) in his dramatic etching of the scene (see figure 1), which Cozens would have seen during his stay in Italy from November 1776 through to March 1779. However, as can be seen from a drawing by Isaac de Moucheron (1667–1744) from the 1690s (see figure 2), the Monro School subject depicts the old customs house of the port with steps leading down to the river Tiber, all of which was swept away by the later redevelopment. The Monro School drawing must therefore have been made after an earlier, perhaps seventeenth-century source, and it is even possible that this too was by Moucheron since Monro’s posthumous sale included five landscapes by the artist. If this was the case, it is likely that the view Girtin worked from was a partial one as the buildings in the Monro School watercolour are shown in a quiet riverside setting, completely at odds with the frenetic city centre location recorded by Piranesi and others. I suspect that Girtin’s source recorded the appearance of the buildings alone and that he improvised the river view, perhaps basing it on one of the scenes on the river Tiber sketched by Cozens.

The album containing this drawing was sold in 1833 as the work of Turner, but the cataloguer of the Turner Bequest, Alexander Finberg, thought that Girtin alone was responsible for the watercolours, whilst more recently Andrew Wilton has established their joint authorship (Finberg, 1909, vol.2, p.1228; Wilton, 1984a, pp.8–23). Identifying the division of labour within Monro School drawings is considerably helped, as here, when the colour washes leave much of the pencil work showing through. An architectural subject generally requires a more detailed underdrawing than a landscape, and in this case Girtin’s inventive and fluent hand is clearly apparent under Turner’s economical use of a simple monochrome palette.

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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