“Modern Rome – Campo Vaccino” by J.M.W. Turner
“Modern Rome – Campo Vaccino” by J.M.W. Turner is a landscape vision of the yet unexcavated Roman Forum, still called the Campo Vaccino meaning “Cow Pasture,” shimmering in the hazy light. Ten years after his final journey to Rome, Turner envisioned Rome from his memory. The churches and ancient monuments in and around the Roman Forum are dissolving as the moon rises and the sun sets.
This picture’s light effects exemplify 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
Images of Classical, Renaissance, and Baroque Rome dominate the canvas. But in the foreground amidst these ancient splendors and history, the city’s inhabitants carry on with their daily activities in the emerging shadows of the Capitoline Hill.
The Roman Forum is a rectangular plaza surrounded by the ruins of several important ancient buildings in the center of the city of Rome. During Ancient Roman times, the Forum was the center of day-to-day life in Rome. It was the site of triumphal processions, elections, the venue for public speeches, criminal trials, and commercial affairs. Here statues and monuments commemorated the city’s great men.
As Rome’s population declined after the fall of the Empire, efforts were made to keep the Forum intact. However, by the 6th century, some of the old edifices began to be transformed into Christian churches. The emperor Constans who visited the city in 665 AD, stripped the lead roofs, which exposed the monumental buildings to the weather and hastened deterioration. By the 8th century, the whole space was surrounded by Christian churches taking the place of the abandoned and ruined temples.
During the Middle Ages, the monuments were, for the most part, buried under debris, and its location was designated the “Campo Vaccino” located between the Capitoline Hill and the Colosseum. After the 8th century, the structures of the Forum were dismantled, rearranged, and used to build feudal towers and castles in the local area. In the 13th century, these rearranged structures were torn down, and the site became a dumping ground. This, along with the debris from the dismantled medieval buildings and ancient structures, helped contribute to the rising ground level.
Located in the small valley between the Palatine and Capitoline Hills, the Forum today is a sprawling ruin of architectural fragments and intermittent archaeological excavations. The Roman Forum has been a source of inspiration for artists for centuries. Notable artists of the Forum include Giambattista Piranesi, Maerten van Heemskerck, Pirro Ligorio, Canaletto, Claude Lorrain, Giovanni Paolo Panini, Hubert Robert, J.M.W. Turner and many others.
View of the Roman Forum from the Palatine Hill
The Roman Forum was a site for many artists studying in Rome to sketch during the 17th through the 19th century. The focus of many of these works was on the current state of the Roman Forum, known locally as the “Campo Vaccino,” or “cow field,” due to the livestock which grazed on the largely ignored section of the city.
Joseph Mallord William Turner
Joseph Mallord William Turner entered the Royal Academy of Art in 1789, aged 14, and his first watercolor was accepted for the Royal Academy summer exhibition of 1790 when Turner was 15. From a young art student trained in executing topographical watercolors, he became one of the most original artists of his time. Turner was a Romantic painter, printmaker, and watercolorist, today known for his vivid coloration, imaginative landscapes, and turbulent marine paintings. As a private, eccentric, and reclusive figure, Turner was controversial throughout his career. He left over 2,000 paintings and 19,000 drawings and sketches.
Modern Rome – Campo Vaccino
- 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
Joseph Mallord William Turner
- Name: Joseph Mallord William Turner
- Born: 1775 – Covent Garden, London, England
- Died: 1851 (aged 76) – Cheyne Walk, Chelsea, England
- Nationality: English
- Movement Romanticism
- Famous Works:
- The Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons
- The Fighting Temeraire
- Modern Rome – Campo Vaccino
- The Burning of the Houses of Parliament
- Newport Castle
- The Grand Canal, Venice
- Rain, Steam, and Speed – The Great Western Railway
- Dido Building Carthage
- Snow Storm: Steam-Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth
- The Slave Ship
- Snow Storm: Hannibal and his Army Crossing the Alps
A Tour of the Getty Museum
- “The Grand Canal in Venice from Palazzo Flangini to Campo San Marcuola” by Canaletto
- “Modern Rome – Campo Vaccino” by J.M.W. Turner
- “Irises” by Vincent van Gogh
- “After the Bath, Woman Drying Her Back” by Edgar Degas
- “Wheatstacks, Snow Effect, Morning” by Claude Monet
- Portrait of a Halberdier by Pontormo
- Spring by Édouard Manet
- Greek Kouros (Getty Museum)
- Spring by Lawrence Alma-Tadema
- “Portrait of a Man” by Paolo Veronese
- Euclid by Jusepe de Ribera
- Can you imagine a time when the Roman Forum was Cow Pasture?
J. M. W. Turner Quotes
“To select, combine, and concentrate that which is beautiful in nature and admirable in art is as much the business of the landscape painter in his line as in the other departments of art.”
“I have no secret but hard work. This is a secret that many never learn, and they don’t succeed because they don’t learn it. Labor is the genius that changes the world from ugliness to beauty and the great curse to a great blessing.”
“I know of no genius but the genius of hard work.”
“I don’t paint so that people will understand me; I paint to show what a particular scene looks like.”
“It is necessary to mark the greater from, the lesser truth: namely, the larger and more liberal idea of nature from the comparatively narrow and confined; namely that which addresses itself to the imagination from that which is solely addressed to the eye.”
“It is only when we are no longer fearful that we begin to create.”
“If I could find anything blacker than black, I’d use it.”
“There’s a sketch at every turn.”
“I did not paint… to be understood. I wished to show what such a scene was like.”
“Painting can never show her nose in company with architecture but to have it snubbed.”
“There’s a sketch at every turn.”
– J. M. W. Turner
Photo Credit: 1) J. M. W. Turner [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons 2) Chalaph [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]