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drawing / album

  • Object type

  • Museum number


  • Description

    S Maria Nuova, with the temple of the Sun and Moon, from the Colosseum, formerly part of an album; ruined apse with shrubs growing on top, with church to right and behind. 1781 Watercolour with pen and grey ink

  • Producer name

  • School/style

  • Date

    • 1781
  • Materials

  • Technique

  • Dimensions

    • Height: 317 millimetres
    • Width: 331 millimetres
  • Inscriptions

      • Inscription Content

        Inscribed and dated: "F. Towne No 42. 1781"
        T. Wilcox, Francis Towne, London 1997
        Inscribed on the verso of the artist's mount, upper left, "No 42"; below, "St Maria Nuova with the \ Temple of the Sun & Moon, taken from the Coloseo [June 27th 1781 deleted] \ Rome. Francis Towne. delt."
  • Curator's comments

    From album NN,01.1-25
    See Nn,1.1 for information about the Towne albums as a whole.

    T. Wilcox, Francis Towne, London 1997
    During late June and July 1781 Towne made a series of watercolours of many of the major classical monuments which up to that moment he had studiously ignored. Having made his decision to return sooner than expected to England, he now wanted to create a record of the most notable Roman remains, to boost his stock of images and possibly even to avoid disappointing the expectations of those friends, acquaintances and future clients in Exeter who had been taking such an interest in his journey.
    The watercolours made at this time include Towne's only general view of the Forum (BM Nn.3.15) and an extended composition including the Arch of Septimus Severus (BM Nn3.10), along with the Tarpeian rock (BM Nn1.16, dated 3 July on the mount, later deleted). On the day he drew Santa Maria Nova, 27 June, he also went on to draw the Temple of Vesta (both dates were later scratched off the mounts; the sequence is deduced from the shadows). These works are not Towne's most imaginative and personal, yet neither do they deserve to be overlooked, as they have been generally up to now. At the very least they manifest Towne's professional approach to his stay in Rome; and in Santa Maria Nova he could not help but give a completely convincing account of a searing day in high summer. This is conveyed by the depth of the shadow within the apse of the temple and also, most tellingly, by the end of the church, represented by a dazzling block of white paper. The square shape of the building is rendered even more inert by the lack of perspective and by the way it echoes the proportions of the entire composition.
    The Church of Santa Maria Nova (to give it its correct Latin name rather than the Italian version used by Towne), with its fine Romanesque campanile, had been rededicated in the seventeenth century to Santa Francesca Romana. Towne was not alone, though in neglecting the baroque façade added by Lombardi in 1615 in preference to the conjunction of Roman and medieval buildings. There is a very similar view by Pars (YCBA, New Haven 1981, no. 70, repr. pl. VIII), as well as a watercolour from a slightly more oblique angle by Hackert (Keaveney 1988, no. 27). Towne could possibly have chosen the earlier name of the church to accord with the features in his drawing, but where his information becomes not simply out of date but actually inaccurate is in the temple beside it. This was not the Temple of the Sun and Moon, as he said, but the Temple of Venus and Rome.

    The following label was written by Richard Stephens for the Towne exhibition in 2016:
    Towne drew this in the shadow of the Colosseum, looking towards the southern end of the Forum.
    This watercolour and the one to its right (Nn,1.18), which are both dated 27 June 1781, were among the most highly admired in the early 20th century. Paul Oppé wrote that Towne had 'turned to an almost greater simplicity than was shown in any of the earlier drawings... [they are] exquisite washed outlines... The interest lies entirely in the fine penwork and in the flat washes.' The flat planes with which Towne constructed his pictorial space, and the economy of his pen line, made Towne's early 20th century audiences think of watercolours such as these as the the thrillingly modern antithesis of what they understood to be the more typical 18th century approach to landscape composition.


  • Bibliography

    • Binyon 1898-1907 2(14) bibliographic details
    • Bury 1962 2(14) bibliographic details
  • Location

    Not on display (British Imp PIIIb)

  • Exhibition history

    1981 BM P&D, 'Francis Towne and John 'Warwick Smith', no cat. 1997 June-Sep London, Tate Gallery, Francis Towne
    2016 Jan-Aug, BM, 'Light, Time, Legacy: Francis Towne's watercolours of Rome' (no catalogue)

  • Subjects

  • Associated places

  • Acquisition name

  • 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

  • Department

    Prints & Drawings

  • Registration number


  • Additional IDs

    • 1972,U.633
S Maria Nuova, with the temple of the Sun and Moon, from the Colosseum, formerly part of an album; ruined apse with shrubs growing on top, with church to r and behind. 1781 Watercolour with pen and grey ink


S Maria Nuova, with the temple of the Sun and Moon, from the Colosseum, formerly part of an album; ruined apse with shrubs growing on top, with church to r and behind. 1781 Watercolour with pen and grey ink

Image description



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