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

The Temple of Venus at Baia

1794 - 1797

Primary Image: TG0655: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802) and Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851), after (?) John Robert Cozens (1752–97), The Temple of Venus at Baia, 1794–97, graphite and watercolour on wove paper, on an early mount, 21 × 23.7 cm, 8 ¼ × 9 ¼ in. Tate, Turner Bequest CCCLXXIII, 9 (D36422).

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 Temple of Venus at Baia
1794 - 1797
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on wove paper, on an early mount
21 × 23.7 cm, 8 ¼ × 9 ¼ in
Mount Dimensions
36.3 × 49.5 cm, 14 ¼ × 19 ½ in

‘Temple of Venus in the / Bay of Baia’ on the back, by Thomas Girtin (pasted down, but transcribed by a later hand on the lower right of the mount)

Part of
Object Type
Collaborations; Monro School Copy
Subject Terms
Italian View: Naples and Environs

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.1227 as '"Temple of Venus, in the Bay of Baia"' by Thomas Girtin; Turner Online as 'Temple of Venus in the Bay of Baia' by Joseph Mallord William Turner and Thomas Girtin (Accessed 08/09/2022)

About this Work

This view of what purports to be the famous octagonal structure at Baia, near Naples, known as the Temple of Venus, is mounted in an album of watercolours that was 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 many of the Monro School drawings of Italian scenes, it has not been possible to trace the source of this view of the so-called Temple of Venus, actually a part of a bath and villa complex that acquired its name from a statue of the goddess that was discovered there. But, as was generally the case, it is likely to have been a sketch made by John Robert Cozens (1752–97) on one of his visits to Naples, either in 1777 or in 1782–83. The auction of the artist’s work held in July 1794 contained twenty-seven ‘books of sketches’ and many hundreds of drawings made on his travels, and, as Kim Sloan has argued, given that Monro’s posthumous sale included only a few sketches by Cozens, the patron must have borrowed much of the material from which Girtin and Turner worked, though in this case it has either been lost or remains unrecognised (Sloan and Joyner, 1993, pp.81–82).2 Three sketches of the building by Cozens survive, including one (see source image TG0656) that was used as the basis for one of two other Monro School drawings of the subject (TG0656 and TG0656a). However, surprisingly, given the inscription on the back of this watercolour, which identifies the building seen here as the ‘Temple of Venus in the Bay of Baia’, it appears to show a different octagonal structure. Thus, the arched openings are much taller and the base assumes a quite different form, as though the structure is emerging from a natural sea cave. Even if we discount the possibility that the original sketch copied by Girtin was inscribed incorrectly and that it therefore depicts a different building, we are still left with two further alternative explanations. Firstly, the Monro School artists may have changed the form of the building so that, although it has much in common with the ‘Temple’ at Baia, it conforms more thoroughly to what one might expect from a shrine dedicated to Venus set on the sea shore. Secondly, and this is the suggestion that I marginally favour, the artists worked from a slight source, which might easily have been misinterpreted.

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.1227; 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, and Girtin’s inventive and fluent hand is clearly apparent under Turner’s economical use of a simple palette of blues and greys.

1794 - 1797

The Temple of Venus at Baia


1794 - 1797

The Temple of Venus at Baia


1794 - 1797

The Temple of Venus at Baia


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).
  2. 2 A full record of the sale is available in the Documents section of the Archive (1794 – Item 1)

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