Francis Towne, Temple of Saturn, a watercolour

Rome, before AD 1780

A view of the Temple of Saturn in the Roman Forum

Born in Isleworth and apprenticed to a coach painter, Towne (1739-1816) went to Exeter in 1763 and began to teach drawing. He toured Wales in 1777, developing his watercolour technique, but his distinctive outline and wash style found its fullest expression when he visited Italy in 178-81, returning via Switzerland with John 'Warwick' Smith. His work is dominated by a carefully calculated sense of pattern which was little appreciated in his lifetime, but is much more to modern taste and is now held in high esteem.

The Temple of Saturn is one of the finest Roman temples remaining in the Forum Romanum. Towne's watercolour over pen and ink uses flat patterns of strong colour: strong sunlight bleaches the walls and washing hanging on the line and the light glances off the curved surfaces of the columns and even the row of flower-pots, casting shadows of different tone. On the right, Towne uses colour to differentiate the shading of the trees, balancing that dark mass with the buildings and figures in shadow at lower left. Above, a blue sky is partly filled with large clouds, their white mass as solid as the buildings beneath.

Houses and palaces are attached to the ruins; the Forum and its decrepit buildings were inhabited for centuries. The human figures are however, dwarfed by the scale of the ruins and play little part in the artist's interpretation of the scene. All unnecessary detail is excluded in favour of the overall composition and form is defined purely by outline.

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More information


T. Wilcox, Francis Towne (Tate Gallery, London, 1997)

A. Wilton and I. Bignamini (eds.), Grand Tour: the lure of Italy (London, Tate Gallery Publishing, 1996)

A. Bury, Francis Towne: lone star of wa (London, Charles Skilton, 1962)


Height: 322.000 mm
Width: 473.000 mm

Museum number

PD Nn-01-17


Francis Towne Bequest


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