- Museum number
View under an arch of the Colosseum, formerly part of an album; arched bays on right and left with view of attic storey of arch of Constantine in centre, part of vaulted roof ruined and open to sky. 1780
Brush drawing in grey and brown wash with pen and black ink outlines
- Production date
Height: 471 millimetres
Width: 319 millimetres
- Curator's comments
- From album NN,02.1-32
See Nn,1.1 for information about the Towne albums as a whole.
The view through the arch shows the top of the Arch of Constantine to the left, and monastery of S Bonaventura to the right
Ref: Thomas Ashby, 'Forty drawings of Roman scenes by British artists (1715-1850) from Originals in the British Museum', 1911, no. XVI
For the inscription, see: Richard Stephens, 'Francis Towne's Views of Rome', British Art Journal, X, no. 3, 2010, p.48 (repro. fig. 1), where he notes that it demonstrates how Towne could deploy lighting to achieve his compositional goals and p. 53-4, where he notes that the long inscription on this drawing is borrowed from a published commentary by Addison and that the arch's inscription would have resonated with towne and his politically reformist audience, as it is typical fo the contemporary political analyses that were overlaid on the history of Rome. The gloomy colosseum, where Christians gave up their lives, was the ideal vehicle for offering a moralizing commentary on contemporary public life.
T. Wilcox, Francis Towne, London 1997
Towne's exploration of the Colosseum was nothing if not methodical. Ignoring the rest of Rome's classical remains, he returned repeatedly to this one building, always finding a fresh approach to add to his growing portfolio. He did not neglect the gloomy vaulted arcades around the base, which had earlier attracted both Joseph Wright in 1774-5 and J.R. Cozens in 1778 (see Manchester 1988, nos. 39, 44). Where his Predecessors had concentrated only on the bleak repetition of the massive piers, Towne preferred to introduce some visual variety: an inviting glimpse of sunshine provided relief from the shadowy corridor, with figures understandably drawn towards the light. Not only the subject itself but also the complexity of the illumination reveal that Towne, in common with every other artist approaching this type of material, could not escape the influence of Piranesi.
Yet Towne also discovered other aspects to the Colosseum. Despite the gaping hole in the roof, the complete arch here created the illusion of a Palladian window looking out onto a park strewn with classical remains. The Arch of Constantine, such a favourite trophy for the English in the form of the painted 'capricci' of Pannini, becomes no more than a half-submerged fragment, while crowning the wooded hillside what might be taken for the ruined Palace of the Emperors on the Palatine appears mysteriously intact. This is in fact one of the very few more recent structures there, the Church and Monastery of St Bonaventura. Reference to any of the numerous contemporary views of this part of Rome reveals how Towne selected the angle which made the scene most enticing (see, for instance, Keaveney 1988, nos. 16-22, especially the last of these by Elizabeth Susan Percy, c.1800, entitled 'Nero's Palace & Arch of Constantine from the Coliseum').
The lengthy remarks Towne transcribed onto the verso of the mount were derived from one of the most popular guides, Joseph Addison's 'Remarks on Several Parts of Italy', a copy of which he owned (see Appendix II, 'Addison's Travels'). The reference to the Romans as "Heathens", along with the Emperor's "Divine impulse", again introduces a religious theme, with Towne thinking of Constantine primarily as the man credited with legitimising Christianity in the Roman Empire.
The following label was written by Richard Stephens for the Towne exhibition in 2016:
This view, looking out from the Colosseum over the Arch of Constantine to the Palatine Hill, contains Towne's longest inscription. Comprising a quotation from Joseph Addison's Remarks on Several Parts of Italy (1705), it shows how studies of ancient ruins could be used to make points about contemporary events.
Addison remarked that the Emperor Constantine had, 'through a Divine impulse with a greatness of mind, and by force of arms... delivered the Commonwealth at once from the Tyrant & all his Faction.' Towne's Exeter public would have understood the parallel of ancient history and recent political events in England, as in their view William of Orange had saved them from Catholic tyranny when he landed in Devon in 1688 and deposed the Catholic King James II.
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
1981 BM P&D, 'Francis Towne and John 'Warwick Smith', no cat.
1982 Sep-Nov, Stockholm, Nationalmus, Artists in Rome, no. 204
1984, BM, Master Drawings & Watercolours, no. 167
1997 June-Sept, London, Tate Gallery, Francis Towne
2016 Jan-Aug, BM, 'Light, Time, Legacy: Francis Towne's watercolours of Rome' (no catalogue)
- 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.729