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Works Thomas Girtin after Giovanni Battista Piranesi

The Temple of Clitumnus

1799 - 1800

Primary Image: TG0887: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), after Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720–78), The Temple of Clitumnus, 1799–1800, graphite and watercolour on laid paper, 21.5 × 30.8 cm, 8 ½ × 12 ⅛ in. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection (B1975.3.1197).

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

Artist's source: Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720–78), etching, 'Tempio di Clitumno' (The Temple of Clitumnus) for Alcune Vedute di Archi Trionfali ed Altri Monumenti (Some Views of Triumphal Arches and Other Monuments), 1748, 13.5 × 26.5 cm, 5 ⁵⁄₁₆ × 10 ⅜ in. British Museum, London (1926,0617.14.28).

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 Temple of Clitumnus
1799 - 1800
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on laid paper
21.5 × 30.8 cm, 8 ½ × 12 ⅛ in
Object Type
Work from a Known Source: Foreign Master
Subject Terms
Italian View: Ancient Ruins

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


Thomas Calvert Girtin (1801–74); then by descent to George Wyndham Hog Girtin (1835–1911) (lent to London, 1875); 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

London, 1875, no.36 as 'Temple of Clytumnus'; Cambridge, 1920, no.27; Agnew’s, 1931, no.135; New Haven, 1986a, no.70


Gibson, 1916, p.214; Davies, 1924, pl.75; Hardie, 1934, p.5; YCBA Online as 'Tempio di Clitumno, Rome, after Piranesi', by an 'unknown artist' after Thomas Girtin (Accessed 14/09/2022)

About this Work

This watercolour, showing the small Roman temple of Clitumnus, is based on an etching by Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720–78) that was published in 1748 as plate twenty-six 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), and it may have been this version that provided Girtin with the source for his watercolour. Girtin made three watercolours from Piranesi’s etchings for Antichità Romane or its reprint, including The Arch of Janus (TG0885), which, with the same dimensions and employing a similar laid paper, was almost certainly conceived as a pair to this work, as well as the larger, unfinished The Temple of Augustus at Pula (TG0886), which appears to have been made at an earlier date. The Tempietto del Clitunno (Temple of Clitumnus) is a small temple dedicated to the god that is located next to the source of a spring that feeds the river of the same name, between Spoleto and Trevi in Umbria. The temple was converted into a Christian church in the fourth century, though no evidence of this is apparent in Piranesi’s view, which instead concentrates on monumentalising the structure. The temple was the subject of a series of paintings by Richard Wilson (1713/14–82) who, in contrast, restored the temple to its original state and emphasised its location as the source for the river (Wilson Online, P65D).

The watercolour has faded significantly, particularly in the sky, and this may have been a factor in its demotion to the status of a copy by the Yale Center for British Art in New Haven, which acquired the work from Tom Girtin (1913–94) as by Girtin, but which now lists it in its online collections site as ‘after Thomas Girtin’ by an ‘unknown artist’. However, although the drawing contains very little of the distinctive pencil work that tends to mark out a Girtin drawing from a copy, the way in which the architectural details are suggested by rapidly applied brushstrokes in blue against the warm tone of the cartridge paper is entirely characteristic of the artist’s mature style. Moreover, the startling, almost arbitrary use of colour – which, although it results in areas of spatial ambiguity, also produces highly attractive abstract passages where pattern predominates over description – features in a way that Girtin’s copyists never succeed in replicating. Working from a small secondary source, Girtin had no alternative but to improvise, and the result is a fine complement to its pair, The Arch of Janus, and a watercolour that should be restored to his authorship.

One reason for the underappreciation of the drawing’s qualities may lie in the tendency to date many of Girtin’s versions of compositions by Piranesi, and also Marco Ricci (1676–1730), to a period that is too early, and to see them simply as exercises in the assimilation of an earlier artist’s style (Morris, 1986, p.18). A dated watercolour such as An Interior View of the Ruins of Lindisfarne Priory Church (TG1107), from 1797, demonstrates that the influence of Piranesi’s bold compositions, with their daring cut-offs, had already had a dramatic impact on Girtin’s architectural subjects a year or so prior to the production of watercolours such as this view of the Temple of Clitumnus. The pair of works made after Piranesi’s prints, together with a group of six watercolours from etchings of compositions by Ricci, were surely executed at a later date than the copies of prints that Girtin produced for John Henderson (1764–1843) around 1797–98 (such as TG0896), and crucially they were made for the open market rather than on commission. The central 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 the artist acquired during his trip to Paris, he himself may have owned the source material that he transformed in his watercolours.

1799 - 1800

The Arch of Janus


1797 - 1798

The Temple of Augustus at Pula in Istria



An Interior View of the Ruins of Lindisfarne Priory Church


1797 - 1798

The Temple of Augustus at Pula in Istria


by Greg Smith

Place depicted

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