- Museum number
Inside of the Colosseum from the Emperor's seat, looking towards the Palatine Hill, formerly part of an album; tiers of ruined arches surrounding open ground in right and centre, where figures in white stand beside altars. 1781
Pen and grey ink and watercolour
- Production date
Height: 317 millimetres
Width: 471 millimetres
- Curator's comments
- From album NN,02.1-32
See Nn,1.1 for information about the Towne albums as a whole.
Ref: Thomas Ashby, Forty drawings of Roman scenes by British artists (1715-1850) from Originals in the British Museum, 1911, no. XV.
T. Wilcox, Francis Towne, London 1997
According to the numbering, this sheet, "No 11", may represent the next occasion on which Towne returned to draw the Colosseum. The intervening drawings all depict scenes in the Gampagna or around the walls of Rome. Towne's "No 10" was dated 2 November and "No 12" 18 November, giving "No 11" a date in early November, as the sequence generally preserves the chronological order. Though dated merely "1781", no. 17 could have been begun in 1780 and finished the following year, like the 'View of the Colosseum from the Palatine', originally dated "30 October", which was deleted and replaced with "1781" (BM Nn2.28; this is inscribed "No 23", which in fact puts it into the sequence with other drawings made in January and February 1781). Towne's viewpoint could not be more different from Nn2.11, for here he chose the most commanding position in the entire arena. There is a theatricality in the paired wings of tall arcading broken in the centre, which is developed by the introduction of a large group of robed figures attending a mass at one of the altars down below.
Many British vistors to Rome were strongly anti-Catholic, and it might be expected that Towne, especially with his Protestant friends in Exeter, would share the aversion to the Roman Church's "superstition", just noted in the case of William Beckford. Figures usually played only a scant role in Towne's drawings, but their appearance here, in combination with the reference to the Emperor's seat, may have been inspired by such sentiments. Both Towne and his audience would have been well aware of the likely fate of the Christian faithful who entered this arena during its heyday; the judgement inflicted on them by the Emperor, might, it is almost implied, be appropriately extended to present-day Catholics.
The following label was written by Richard Stephens for the Towne exhibition in 2016:
The Colosseum had been consecrated as a Christian church but, as with his view of the Campo Vaccino, here also Towne plays down the site's contemporary usage by leaving his outlines of worshippers and altars uncoloured. Small unresolved or undeveloped areas such as this - where Towne has either decided not to complete the colouring or overlooked the need - are fairly common in Towne's watercolours.
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
1981 BM P&D, 'Francis Towne and John 'Warwick Smith', no cat.
1982 Sep-Nov, Nationalmuseum, Stockholm, 'Artists in Rome', no. 205
1997 Jun-Sep, London, Tate Gallery, 'Francis Towne'
1997/8 Oct-Jan, Leeds, City Art Gallery, '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.612