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

Tivoli: The 'Villa of Maecenas’, Seen from an Elevated Viewpoint

1794 - 1797

Primary Image: TG0592: (?) Thomas Girtin (1775–1802) and Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851) after John Robert Cozens (1752–97), Tivoli: The 'Villa of Maecenas', Seen from an Elevated Viewpoint, 1794–97, graphite and watercolour on wove paper, 48.9 × 31.8 cm, 19 ¼ × 12 ½ in. The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens, Gilbert Davis Collection (59.55.1288).

Photo courtesy of The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens, Gilbert Davis Collection (All Rights Reserved)

(?) Thomas Girtin (1775-1802) and Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851) after John Robert Cozens (1752-1797)
  • Tivoli: The 'Villa of Maecenas’, Seen from an Elevated Viewpoint
1794 - 1797
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on wove paper
48.9 × 31.8 cm, 19 ¼ × 12 ½ in
Object Type
Collaborations; Monro School Copy
Subject Terms
Italian View: The Roman Campagna

Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001


Richard Mills, bought 1849 (Armstrong, 1902); his sale, Christie's, 13 April 1908, lot 37 as 'Maecenas Villa, near Rome' by Joseph Mallord William Turner; bought by 'Carfax', £31 10s; Robert Nesham (1846–1928); his sale, Christie's, 3 July 1925, lot 62 as 'Maecenas Villa, near Rome' by Joseph Mallord William Turner; bought by 'Walker', £11 11s; Walker's Galleries, London; Alan Keen (lent to Arts Council, 1949); Gilbert Davis (1899–1983); bought from him by the Gallery, 1959

Exhibition History

Arts Council, 1949, no.34 as ’Tivoli: Villa of Maecenas’ by Joseph Mallord William Turner; London, 1953b, no.115


Armstrong, 1902, p.280 as by Joseph Mallord William Turner; The Huntington Online as 'Tivoli, Villa of Maecenas' by Joseph Mallord William Turner, 'probably after John Robert Cozens'

About this Work

Tivoli: The 'Villa of Maecenas'

This view of the so-called Villa of Maecenas at Tivoli is based on a composition by John Robert Cozens (1752–97) (see figure 1) and 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 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 Cozens’ contemporaries, though none it seems explored the scene from the viewpoint adopted here on the heights above the river, looking south west. From this spot, with the Campagna stretching to the distant Alban Hills, there are no contemporary buildings visible that could undermine the timeless quality of the image.

Tivoli: The Valley of the Anio with the Villa of Maecenas and the Piccole Cascatelle

The composition by Cozens that formed the basis for the Monro School work is known in two formats, both of which differ from it in significant ways. The watercolour (see figure 1), probably dating from around 1780, is oval in shape and omits much of the foreground and the overhanging tree, whilst the Cozens pencil sketch on which it is presumably based (see figure 2), whilst it is a much more expansive view, also lacks the tree to the left. However, overlaying images of the Monro School work and the pencil sketch shows such a degree of congruence that it is possible that the building at least was traced from the Cozens outline. If this was the case, then it means that much of the foreground, as well as the tree and foliage to the left, was improvised at Monro’s house, and that the work is strictly speaking a variation on a theme by Cozens rather than a copy.

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 work is often effaced. This watercolour has always been attributed to Turner, but, although it is not possible to challenge this with complete confidence working solely from a colour image, I can see no compelling reason to believe that more fully worked sheets such as this depart from the artists’ customary collaborative practice. The fact that the colouring is more substantial than was commonly the case does not mean that the composition did not start out as a simple outline drawing by Girtin. One particular detail may help to establish the dual attribution of the work. The reclining figure under the foreground tree reappears in a number of Girtin’s watercolours, including A Distant View of Dryburgh Abbey (TG1719), suggesting that the development of the basic Cozens composition, involving the addition of a significant foreground, was the result of his efforts.

A copy of this drawing is pasted into a collection of watercolours painted from Monro School collaborations known as ‘The LeGeyt Volume’ after a later owner May Le Geyt (d.1942) who was a descendent of Dr Thomas Monro (Lacy Scott & Knight, 11 March 2017, lot 1464 (p.9)).  One of the drawings is inscribed ‘J. Monro’, presumably John Monro (1801-80) the fourth son of the doctor and he may have been the author of all of the sheets in the book. Some of the drawings are dated 1827 and 1837 suggesting that the copies were made both prior to the 1833 sale, whilst others, as in this case, were painted from material retained by the Monro family.

1800 - 1801

A Distant View of Dryburgh Abbey, with the Eildon Hills Beyond


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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