- Museum number
The Baths of Caracalla, St Peter's in the distance, formerly part of an album; huge ruins in left foreground, and beyond in centre, overgrown with trees and shrubs, with St Peter's in distant r. 1781
Pen and black ink with brown wash and watercolour, some gum arabic
- Production date
Height: 323 millimetres
Width: 503 millimetres
- Curator's comments
- From album NN,01.1-25
See Nn,1.1 for information about the Towne albums as a whole.
In January 1781 Towne made a group of studies of the Baths of Caracalla, probably in the company of 'Warwick' Smith. In these watercolours Towne's palette takes on a new richness, with warm tones of green and golden yellow predominating in contrast to the delicate colours of the drawings made in the preceding autum.
Until systematic excavations began in the mid-nineteenth century, when the luxuriant growth which had made the baths a rival to the colosseum was cleared away, the romantic neglect of the site attracted artists to sketch its crumbling grandeur. It was here also that Shelley was to write 'Prometheus Unbound' in the spring of 1819, noting in the Preface: 'This poem was cheifly written upon the mountainous ruins of the Baths of Caracalla, among the flowery glades and thickets of odoriferous blossoming trees which extend in ever-winding labyrinths upon its immense platforms and dizzy arches suspended in the air. The bright blue sky of Rome, and the effect of the vigorous awakening Spring in that divinest climate, and the new life with which it drenches the spirits even to intoxication, were the inspiration of the drama.'
Towne's watercolour shows the upper part of the pier at the north-west corner of the central hall.
The following label was written by Richard Stephens for the Towne exhibition in 2016:
The somewhat paler tones of the ruin compared with the other Caracalla studies, and the touches of grey and brown shading with which Towne has emphasised masonry details, are a sign that it was coloured later in Towne's life. The blue washes that have spilled over from the edge of the sheet slightly, onto the mount in the top left corner, confirm that Towne supplemented the original colouring after he had mounted it. A fourth study of the Baths, numbered 36, was left as a monochrome sketch and was not included within Towne's bequest.
For other views of the Baths of Caracalla by Francis Towne, see Nn,1.6, Nn,1.7 and Nn,2.29.
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
1981 BM P&D, 'Francis Towne and John 'Warwick Smith', no cat.
2016, Jan-Aug, BM, 'Light, Time, Legacy: Francis Towne's watercolours of Rome' (no catalogue)
- Laid down in artist's original wash-lined mount.
- Acquisition date
- Prints and Drawings
- Registration number
- Additional IDs
Miscellaneous number: 1972,U.628