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

Tivoli: The 'Villa of Maecenas' and Part of the Cascades, Seen from Below

1794 - 1797

Primary Image: TG0594: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802) and Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851), after (?) John Robert Cozens (1752–97), Tivoli: The 'Villa of Maecenas' and Part of the Cascades, Seen from Below, 1794–97, graphite and watercolour on wove paper, 22.5 × 40.6 cm, 8 ⅞ × 16 in. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Rogers Fund, 1906 (06.1042.18).

Photo courtesy of Metropolitan Museum of Art, Rogers Fund, 1906 (Public Domain)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802) and Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851) after (?) John Robert Cozens (1752-1797)
  • Tivoli: The 'Villa of Maecenas' and Part of the Cascades, Seen from Below
1794 - 1797
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on wove paper
22.5 × 40.6 cm, 8 ⅞ × 16 in

'Villa of Maecenas, Tivoli' on the back

Object Type
Collaborations; Monro School Copy
Subject Terms
Italian View: The Roman Campagna

Catalogue Number


Carfax Gallery, London; bought, 1906


Metropolitan Museum Online as a 'Copy after John Robert Cozens' (Accessed 07/09/2022)

About this Work

This watercolour, one of two views of the so-called Villa of Maecenas at Tivoli seen from below, 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’, 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

The monumental structure overlooking the gorge of the river Aniene was known in the eighteenth century as the Villa of Maecenas, but it is now understood to be the Sanctuary of Hercules Victor, which was built in the second half of the first century BC. Maecenas was Gaius Cilnius Maecenas (70–8 BC), the munificent patron of Virgil and Horace and a benefactor of the arts who consequently represented a high point of classical civilisation to British travellers to Italy. The spectacularly sited ruins were the subject of numerous views by an earlier generation of British artists visiting Italy who appreciated their picturesque setting as well as their cultural associations. Francis Towne (1739–1816) depicted the ruins from a similar viewpoint, from where the cascades formed by the precipitous descent of the river Aniene were even more prominent (Towne Online, FT263). The falls, which were such an important part of Tivoli’s visual appeal, are actually no longer evident. The course of the Aniene was diverted to avoid the town following destructive floods in 1826, and the river now descends in a single mass to the north east at the Villa Gregoriana.

As with many of the Monro School drawings of scenes in the Roman Campagna, it has not been possible to trace the precise source for this work, but it is likely to have been made from a composition by John Robert Cozens (1752–97) and, more specifically, from sketches and tracings that he made during or after his stay in Italy from November 1776 through to March 1779. Seven sketches by Cozens of some of the most popular sites in Tivoli 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) and a different view of the Villa of Maecenas (see TG0592 figure 2), and it was from just such an outline that Girtin probably produced his pencil drawing for Turner to add washes of colour. The source therefore differed slightly from that used for the other Monro School drawing of the ‘Villa’ (TG0593), being taken from further away, where the falls are less prominent, and the view is also markedly more panoramic in format.

Monro’s posthumous sale contained a substantial number of views of Tivoli, all of which were attributed to Turner alone, but in recent years, following the publication of Andrew Wilton’s pioneering article in 1984, the joint attribution of many Monro School works has become the norm (Wilton, 1984a, pp.8–23). In this case, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York describes the work on its website as a ‘Copy after' Cozens, adding that it ‘may be’ by ‘Thomas Girtin and J. M. W. Turner’. Indeed, the pencil work does appear to be by Girtin and I can see no reason why the application of the washes of watercolour should not be attributed to Turner either. In other words, the work appears entirely typical of the collaborative practice described by the two artists to Farington in 1798, with Turner adding simple washes of colour to a pencil outline copied by Girtin from a lost Cozens sketch.

1794 - 1797

Tivoli: The ‘Villa of Maecenas’ with Part of the Cascades


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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