Description
Creator
Francis Towne (1739 - 1816)
Title(s)
  • The Baths of Caracalla
Date
1781/01
Medium
Pencil, pen and black ink, watercolour
Dimensions
  • image height 324mm,
  • image length 477mm
Support
laid paper, with a vertical crease down its centre
Mount
mounted by the artist on wove paper with a light grey line
Inscription
  • sheet, recto, lower left
  • “No32 / Francis Towne / delt 1781”
  • in black ink
Inscription
  • artist's mount, verso
  • “Rome / afternoon light from the right hand / No32 / The Baths of Caracalla / Janry 1781 drawn on / the Spot by Francis Towne”
  • in brown ink, in shaky (late) handwriting
Object Type
Watercolour

Collection
Catalogue Number
FT202
Description Sources
Author's examination of the object

Provenance

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.1.06).

Associated People & Organisations

British Museum
James White (1744 - 1825)
Exhibition History
Francis Towne, Tate Gallery; Leeds City Art Gallery, 24 June 1997 - 4 January 1998, no. 21
Light, time, legacy: Francis Towne’s watercolours of Rome, British Museum, 2016
Bibliography
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
Adrian Bury, Francis Towne - Lone Star of Water-Colour Painting, Charles Skilton: London, 1962, p. 125
Martin Hardie, Water-Colour Painting in Britain, ed. Dudley Snelgrove, London: B. T. Batsford, 1966, p. 120
Henri Lemaitre, Le Paysage Anglais a l'Aquarelle 1760-1951, Bordas: Paris, 1955, p. 157
Paul Oppé, 'Francis Towne, Landscape Painter', The Walpole Society: London, 1920, p. 111

Comment

This is taken from the top of the northern side of the Frigidarium, whose walls Towne must have climbed for the view. It looks down and left into the Natatio (the olympic swimming pool) and beyond, to the Alban Hills south-east of Rome. Interest in the Baths of Caracalla increased in the late 1770s when permission for excavations was granted to Giovanni Volpato. Other artists who drew the site, both in 1780–81, were Louis Ducros and Giovanni Lusieri; John “Warwick” Smith also drew the Baths (British Museum), using the same viewpoint as Towne. 

This and the next drawing of Caracalla (FT203) were among the very last of Towne’s drawings of Rome to be mounted; both share the same mounting materials and decoration, which in the case of FT203 is watermarked with the date 1811. Their treatment as a pair, as well as affinities between the images themselves (they share the same viewpoint and describe adjacent parts of the site), suggest that they may well have been conceived as a single panoramic view. However, although it was not unknown for Towne to work during both the morning and afternoon on a single drawing (for example, see FT233), Towne has cast the shadows here in two directions, making it obvious that FT203 was drawn in the morning and FT202 in the afternoon. In so doing he has denied the view the unique source of light that it would have required in order to work as a panoramic view.

by Richard Stephens

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