Francis Towne (1739 - 1816)
  • Inside the Colosseum
Pencil, pen and black ink, watercolour
  • image width 471mm,
  • image length 319mm
laid paper with fleur de lis watermark and horizontal crease across its centre
mounted by the artist
  • sheet, recto, lower right
  • “F.Towne.delt / Rome No.12 / Novr 18. 1780”
  • in brown ink
  • artist's mount, verso
  • “No.12 / A View taken inside the Coloseo looking towards the Palatine / mount & the Arch of Constantine [“Novr. 18th. 1780” scratched out] from 3 o Clock till 5 afternoon / Rome Francis Towne delt. / Among the Triumphal Arches. that of Constantine is not only the noblest of any in Rome, but in the World / .the greatest part of the ornaments were taken from Trajan Arch, & set up to the new Emporer in no small haste / by the Senate & people of Rome, who were then most of them Heathens, There is however something in the inscription / which is as old as the Arch iteslf which seems to hint at the Emperors vision. Imp.Caes. Fil, Divinitatis mentis magnitudine cum exercitu tam de Tyransis quam / de omni ejus insignem dicavit. / To the Emperor Constantine & c the senate and People of Rome have dedicated this triumphal Arch, because / through a Divine impulse with a greatness of mind, and by force arms he delivered the Commonwealth at / once from the Tyrant & all his Faction (Addison)”
Object Type

Catalogue Number
Description Sources
Examination; Museum records (image)


Bequeathed by the artist in 1816 to James White of Exeter (1744–1825), who gave it in 1816 to the present owner, the British Museum, London (Nn.2.18).

Associated People & Organisations

British Museum
James White (1744 - 1825)
Exhibition History
Exhibition of Original Drawings at the Gallery, No.20 Lower Brook Street, Grosvenor Square, 20 Lower Brook Street, 1805, no. 164, 165, 166, 167 or 168 as 'Inside of the Coliseo; this edifice is of Travertina stone'; or 169 or 171 as 'Inside of the Coliseo'
Pa Klassik Mark - Malare I Rom pa 1780-talet, Stockholm National Museum, 1982, no. 204
Francis Towne, Tate Gallery; Leeds City Art Gallery, 24 June 1997 - 4 January 1998, no. 18
Light, time, legacy: Francis Towne’s watercolours of Rome, British Museum, 2016
Thomas Ashby, Forty drawings of Roman scenes by British artists (1715-1850) from originals in the British Museum, British Museum: London, 1911
Laurence Binyon, Catalogue of Drawings by British Artists and Artists of Foreign Origin Working in Great Britain Preserved in the Department of Prints and Drawings in the British Museum, Trustees of the British Museum: London, 1907, p. 200
Adrian Bury, 'Some Italian Views by Francis Towne', The Connoisseur, No. VLCII: London, 1938, p. 12
Adrian Bury, Francis Towne - Lone Star of Water-Colour Painting, Charles Skilton: London, 1962, p. 75, 124
Paul Oppé, 'Francis Towne, Landscape Painter', The Walpole Society: London, 1920, p. 110


This is a view looking west from the first-floor level of the Colosseum to the Arch of Constantine and the Church and Convent of S. Bonaventura on the Palatine Hill. As in FT181, here the Colosseum frames a view of the ancient city beyond it, following a compositional tradition promoted by Piranesi, in his monumental views of Rome and of the Colosseum specifically, and by Antonio Canaletto. This effect was also exploited by Sir William Chambers in the greatly admired entrance to the Royal Academy at Somerset House, completed in 1780 shortly before Towne’s departure for Rome. In an etching of 1748 Piranesi had even used an arch of the Colosseum to frame a study of the Arch of Constantine, as did Towne in this drawing.1 Hubert Robert’s version of this view is in the Louvre.2

Towne has made several alterations to the view he actually saw. The viewpoint has been raised so that just the tops of the Arch of Constantine and the Palatine Hill are shown, where fuller portions of both buildings, and much less sky, were visible to Towne. The crumbling arch of the Colosseum has been tidied up so that it performs its job as a frame without distracting the viewer. The degree of curve of the Colosseum has been exaggerated, and light has been excluded from the arches of the right-hand wall, even though they were open to the air. Towne’s aim is to poeticise the scene: he gives viewers just a hint of the Arch of Constantine and the Palatine Hill as they enjoy the warm Roman sun from the brooding majesty of the Colosseum’s oval arcade.

Towne’s inscription is taken from Joseph Addison’s Remarks on Several Parts of Italy,3 one of the best-selling Grand Tour commentaries, a copy of which was among Towne’s possessions at his death. Towne has made two small errors in his transcription: “Tyransis” should be “Tyranno” and “arcum insignem” should be “arcum triumphis insignem”.

by Richard Stephens


  1. 1 Ficacci 2000.
  2. 2 Hubert Robert, Interior of the Colosseum, mid-eighteenth century (Louvre).
  3. 3 Addison 1705, pp.362–63.

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