- Museum number
Inside the Colosseum, formerly part of an album; tiers of ruined arches curving around from foreground left to distant r, with shrubs growing amidst fallen masonry in foreground and centre. 1780
Pen and black ink and watercolour with grey wash
- Production date
Height: 317 millimetres
Width: 472 millimetres
- Curator's comments
- From album NN,02.1-32
See Nn,1.1 for information about the Towne albums as a whole.
T. Wilcox, Francis Towne, London 1997
In 'The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire', conceived on his visit to Rome in 1764, Edward Gibbon was at pains to counter the general conception of barbarism associated with Roman mass entertainment. His considered account of Imperial politics found little space for stories of Christians thrown to the lions. In the eighteenth-century imagination the Colosseum remained none the less unchallenged as the prime image of Rome's grandeur and Rome's downfall; its associations with the callous excesses of gladiatorial combat, not to mention Christian martyrdom, made it the leading symbol of Roman hubris, the location where the seeds of the Empire's destruction were most extravagantly sown. In 1750 Pope Benedict XIV made a belated move to claim the Colosseum for the Church; it was declared consecrated ground and a series of fourteen altars erected, each representing one of the Stations of the Cross. William Beckford, who visited the Colosseum in the same month that Towne was working there, voiced general British distaste at such a blatant display of "holy trumpery", even though his own moral position was at this moment highly insecure, following his enforced departure from England when he was alleged to have shown an unhealthy interest in William Courtenay, the eleven-year-old son of Towne's patron, Viscount Courtenay (Beckford 1971, pp. 194, 15).
'Inside the Coloseo' is the earliest of all Towne's Roman drawings. It was dated 16 October 1780 and given the number "1". For a period of three months, from October until December 1780, he made this building the focus of his architectural studies, while also working on his series of landscape drawings around the walls of Rome and in the countryside surrounding the city. As a first impression of Rome's combination of splendour and decay, the drawing is astonishingly ambitious. Towne selected the end of the amphitheatre where the exterior wall is most incomplete and approached so close to the subject that its oval form was hardly apparent; all that appears is an almost incoherent jumble of fragments. The drawings that Towne was to go on to make in the coming weeks became more orderly and structured; he did not attempt to recapture his initial sense of the chaos of the ruin, which, as evidence of his own powers of concentration and dispassionate observation, remains one of the most impressive of the entire tour.
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
1981 BM P&D, 'Francis Towne and John 'Warwick Smith', no cat.
1997 June-Sep London, Tate Gallery, Francis Towne
1997/8 Oct-Jan, Leeds CAG, Francis Towne
2016 Jan-Aug, BM, 'Light, Time, Legacy: Francis Towne's watercolours of Rome' (no catalogue)
- Laid down in original wash-lined mount.
- Acquisition date
- Acquisition notes
- T. Wilcox, Francis Towne, London 1997
Donated, in accordance with the artist's wishes, by his executor, James White, and "with the concurrence of J. H. Merivale" 1816
- Prints and Drawings
- Registration number
- Additional IDs
Miscellaneous number: 1972,U.727