The Joy of Museums

Finding Meaning in a Museum

Modern Rome – Campo Vaccino

JMW Turner - Modern Rome - Campo Vacino

“Modern Rome – Campo Vaccino” by J.M.W. Turner is a landscape vision of the unexcavated Roman Forum, still called the Campo Vaccino (the “Cow Pasture”), shimmering in hazy light.

Ten years after his final journey to Rome, Turner envisioned Rome from his memory. With churches and ancient monuments in and around the Roman Forum dissolving in luminous colours as the light from the moon is rising on the left and the sun is setting behind the Capitoline Hill at the right. The picture’s light effects exemplifies Turner at his most accomplished, with Turner evoking less a place in the real world and more a place in the imagination.

“The moon is up, and yet it is not night. The sun as yet divides the day with her.”  Lord Byron’s Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage (1818)

Images of Classical, Renaissance and Baroque Rome dominate the canvas, but in the foreground amidst these ancient splendours and history, the city’s inhabitants carry on with their daily activities in the emerging shadows of the Capitoline Hill.

Turner selfportrait

Turner self-portrait, 1799 at the Tate Britain

This painting came to auction in 2010. It was bought by the J. Paul Getty Museum however, it was subject to a temporary export bar to allow a British gallery time to attempt to match the Getty’s bid. This attempt to keep this famous Turner painting in its original home country failed and the painting is now on view at the Getty Center. The painting was sold at auction for £29.7 million (Approximately US $40m), which broke the artist’s auction record.

Many of Turner’s paintings can be found in museums across the world, depict famous landscapes and seascapes. My favourites include:

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Essential Facts:

  • Title:                         Modern Rome – Campo Vaccino
  • Artist:                       J.M.W. Turner
  • Year:                         1839
  • Medium:                  Oil on canvas
  • Dimensions             90.2 cm × 122 cm (35.5 in × 48 in)
  • Museum:                 Getty Museum

Artist Essential Facts:

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“To succeed, jump as quickly at opportunities as you do at conclusions.” Benjamin Franklin

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Photo Credit: 1) J. M. W. Turner [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons 2) J. M. W. Turner [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons