Francis Towne (1739 - 1816)
  • St Peter’s from above the Arco Oscuro
Pencil, pen and black and brown ink, watercolour with gum
  • image width 321mm,
  • image length 467mm
laid paper watermarked "WHATMAN"
mounted by the artist on paper watermarked "J WHATMAN 1794"
  • sheet, recto, lower left
  • “No41 / F.Towne / delt 1781”
  • in brown ink
  • artist's mount, verso
  • “Rome / No41 / St Peters taken above the Arco scuro, the Vatican & Library in which is a pillar / of transparent Oriental jasper / Drawn on the Spot by Francis Towne 1781 [over scratched-out “June 28th 1781”] sun setting on the right hand”
  • in brown ink other than “1781”, which is in dark brown ink
Object Type

Catalogue Number
Description Sources
Author's examination of the object


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.1.14).

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. 180 as 'A view of St.Peter's, with the Vatican and Belvedere, taken near the Arco Oscuro'
unidentified exhibition, British Museum, 1981
Travels in Italy 1776-1783 based on the Memoirs of Thomas Jones, Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester, 1988, no. 22
Francis Towne, Tate Gallery; Leeds City Art Gallery, 24 June 1997 - 4 January 1998, no. 30
Light, time, legacy: Francis Towne’s watercolours of Rome, British Museum, 2016
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. 201
Paul Oppé, 'Francis Towne, Landscape Painter', The Walpole Society: London, 1920, p. 113
Adrian Bury, Francis Towne - Lone Star of Water-Colour Painting, Charles Skilton: London, 1962, pp. 76, 126
Martin Hardie, Water-Colour Painting in Britain, ed. Dudley Snelgrove, London: B. T. Batsford, 1966, p. 121


This view of St Peter’s from the Arco Oscuro area is one that both John “Warwick” Smith and William Pars made—in Pars’s case at least three times.1 All three artists use an upright tree as a counterpoint to the dome of St Peter’s, perhaps aware of Richard Wilson’s view made for the Earl of Dartmouth.2 Goethe also sketched this view using the same compositional treatment.3

At the 1794 Royal Academy exhibition Towne exhibited a view of St Peter’s that may have been based on this drawing or perhaps another known through John White Abbott’s version (see FT575). Judging by the gum and ink highlighting in the foreground and the date of the mount, the drawing was worked on long after the sketch was begun.

Towne’s phrase “transparent Oriental jasper” may have been taken from Joseph Addison’s Remarks on Several Parts of Italy, a copy of which he owned at death: “The most valuable pillars about Rome, for the marble of which they are made, are the four columns of oriental jasper in St. Paulina’s chapel at St. Mary Maggiore. . . . one of transparent oriental jasper in the Vatican library.”4

by Richard Stephens


  1. 1 See Hawcroft 1988.
  2. 2 Richard Wilson: St Peter’s from the Janiculum, ca. 1753 (
  3. 3 P. Chiarini, ed., Goethe a Roma: disegni e acquerelli da weimar (Rome, 1988), nos.11, 19.
  4. 4 Addison 1705, p.353; for Towne’s possessions at death see Appendix 4.

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