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

Tivoli: The ‘Temple of the Sibyl’ and the Cascades Seen from Below

1794 - 1797

Primary Image: TG0578: (?) Thomas Girtin (1775–1802) and Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851) after John Robert Cozens (1752–97), Tivoli: The 'Temple of the Sibyl' and the Cascades Seen from Below, 1794–97, graphite, watercolour and scratching out on wove paper (watermark: J WHATMAN), 41.9 × 54.9 cm, 16 ½ × 21 ⅝ in. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection (B1977.14.356).

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

(?) Thomas Girtin (1775-1802) and Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851) after John Robert Cozens (1752-1797)
  • Tivoli: The ‘Temple of the Sibyl’ and the Cascades Seen from Below
1794 - 1797
Medium and Support
Graphite, watercolour and scratching out on wove paper (watermark: J WHATMAN)
41.9 × 54.9 cm, 16 ½ × 21 ⅝ in
Object Type
Monro School Copy
Subject Terms
Italian View: The Roman Campagna

Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001


Dr Thomas Monro (1759–1833); his posthumous sale, possibly Christie’s, 27 June 1833, lot 102 as 'Gandolfo and Tivoli, a pair colours' by 'Turner' (with TG0617?); bought by 'Thane', £15 17s; Thomas Thane (1782–1846) ... William Leaf; his sale, Christie's, 7 May 1875, lot 379 as 'Tivoli ... early' by Joseph Mallord William Turner; bought by 'Agnew', 39 gns, Thos. Agnew & Sons; 'Mrs Reiss'; then by descent to Stephen Reiss (1918–99); Thos. Agnew & Sons; bought by Paul Mellon (1907–99), 1970; presented to the Center, 1975

Exhibition History

New Haven, 1980, no.177 as ’Tivoli with the Temple of the Sybil and the Cascades’ by Joseph Mallord William Turner


Wilton, 1987, p.30 as by Joseph Mallord William Turner and Thomas Girtin; Fordham, 2019, pp.51–52; YCBA Online as 'Tivoli with the Temple of the Sybil and the Cascades' by Joseph Mallord William Turner (Accessed 07/09/2022)

About this Work

This imposing watercolour, showing the falls of the river Aniene at Tivoli with the so-called Temple of the Sibyl to the right, 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.

The Gorge with the Cascades, Tivoli

The source for the Monro School watercolour is a composition by John Robert Cozens (1752–97) that is known from a sketch in an album of drawings in the Sir John Soane’s Museum, London (see figure 1), that contains seven large views of Tivoli. Overlaying images of the two works shows that, although the Monro School drawing is clearly based on the Cozens composition, it was not traced from this sketch, and, given that the washes of grey on the rocks give no idea of the complex channels of falling water, it was in all likelihood another outline that formed its basis. Few of these survive, but the auction of Cozens’ 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 the bulk of the material from which Girtin and Turner produced works such as this (Sloan and Joyner, 1993, pp.81–82).

The circular structure of the Temple of Vesta, which in the eighteenth century was mistakenly known as the Temple of the Sibyl, made for a dramatic focus for views of the spectacular falls of the Aniene when seen from below. The subject was extremely popular with artists of the period, and more particularly with their patrons, and numerous views from the same spot chosen by Cozens exist. But few views are quite so charged with falling water as this, and perhaps this is a case of where not visiting the site actually encouraged the artists to use their imagination and create an image that accorded more with its picturesque reputation than Cozens’ on-the-spot record.

There has been a tendency to ascribe the more colourful and highly finished Monro School landscapes solely to Turner, not least because any underlying pencil drawing is often effaced. This work has always been attributed to Turner, and in truth there is not enough pencil work still evident to substantiate Girtin’s involvement in its production. However, equally there is no clear evidence that Turner himself was also responsible for the pencil work. Although it may seem perverse when so much of the watercolour’s power derives from his use of colour, there is no reason to think that the statement that the two artists themselves made to Farington in 1798 about the division of labour at Monro’s house was not the case for this work too.

The Falls of Tivoli with the Temple of the Sibyl

A smaller version of the composition was sold in 2008 as ‘Attributed to Joseph Mallord William Turner’ (see figure 2). The quality of the watercolour is poor, however, and it appears to have been copied from the Monro School drawing rather than being derived from the Cozens source. At this distance, it is impossible to say which of the numerous artists, young and old, amateur and professional, who found encouragement at Monro’s house were responsible for the copy.

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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