This large view of the celebrated villa at Tivoli, seen in a landscape setting, is based on a composition by John Robert Cozens (1752–97) that he realised as three watercolours, including one that is dated 1778 (see figure 1). The sources for the Monro School Italian subjects were not commonly watercolours, however; rather, they were usually based on one of the sketches that Cozens made during his stay in Italy from November 1776 through to March 1779. Amongst the few that survive are no fewer than six Tivoli scenes that are contained in an album in the Sir John Soane’s Museum, London, including views of the so-called Temple of the Sibyl (see TG0589 figure 1), the monumental building known as the Villa of Maecenas (see TG0592 figure 2) and the famous cascades of the river Aniene (see TG0578 figure 1). These are all on a large scale – a significant point, because it means that just because a Monro School drawing is bigger than usual, it does not follow that it has to have been made after a watercolour. The generally safe assumption that Girtin worked from ‘outlines or unfinished drawings of Cozens’ is thrown into doubt, however, if one considers an issue about this particular image that has surprisingly not hitherto attracted attention; namely, a comparison with any of the numerous views of the gardens produced in the eighteenth century (for example, see figure 2) shows that Cozens either invented the landscape foreground or adapted it from somewhere else. The garden facade of the Villa d’Este, with the highly distinctive Gran Loggia at the termination of the two-hundred-metre-long terrace, in reality looks out over immense formal gardens, with long alleys, monumental fountains and carefully trained trees, and not the tangled mass of vegetation, uneven ground and picturesque framing devices shown here. An on-the-spot sketch by Cozens may have shown the building as it is depicted here, but it is hard to believe that it would have featured the same fictitious landscape setting. In this one specific instance for a Monro School copy, therefore, it seems that Girtin worked directly from a finished studio watercolour by Cozens, and, given that nothing of this description was sold at the patron’s posthumous sale in 1833, it is likely to have been on loan to the patron at the time that Turner and Girtin were working for him.
The mass of the Monro School copies that were sold in the 1833 sale were catalogued as by Turner alone, and it took until a pioneering article by Andrew Wilton published in 1984 for the joint attribution of works such as this view to be more generally accepted (Wilton, 1984a, pp.8–23). Susan Morris in her catalogue of the Girtin drawings owned by the Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, followed Wilton’s lead and described this work as a collaboration between the two artists, and I believe that that is correct (Morris, 1986, p.49). Identifying the division of labour within Monro School drawings is considerably helped – as here, particularly in the building in the middle ground – when Girtin’s inventive and fluent hand is clearly apparent. Elsewhere, Turner’s simple palette of blues and greys is rather more developed than is often the case in the larger Monro School watercolours, but even here Girtin’s pencil work is often left visible to create an effect that is closer to that of a sketch, rather than the watercolour on which I suspect the work is based.
1794 - 1797
Tivoli: The Gran Loggia of the Villa d’Este
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