Francis Towne (1739 - 1816)
  • A View of St. Peter’s, Rome
No date
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Exhibition History
The Exhibition of the Royal Academy, Royal Academy of Arts, 1794, no. 295 as 'A view of St. Peter's Rome'


The assumption is that this exhibit was in oil as Towne’s exhibits of 1789 (FT557), 1792 (FT572), 1797 (FT590) and 1800 (FT616FT617) appear to have been. No preparatory studies are known but perhaps the source was a 1781 work (FT211). Alternatively the 1794 exhibit may be related to a view of St Peter’s from Monte Mario that was apparently by John White Abbott (Sotheby’s, 21 March 2001, lot 170) but that Abbott had clearly copied from another source, not improbably an unrecorded work by Towne. When Charles Dean Merivale wrote to his mother to describe his night-time entry into Rome in 1846, he refers to a picture by Towne of St Peter’s:

Twelve weary hours did we wander through this desert, making about forty miles. Rome we entered in the dead of night over a road deeply cut into the hill, which reminded me very much of Mr. Towne’s picture, though no St. Peter’s could I see till we wound under its foot.1 

The deep-cut road and sight of St Peter’s bring to mind FT211; that drawing was in the British Museum, where probably Charles Merivale had not seen it—or at any rate where it is unlikely to have been familiar enough to cite in a letter to his mother. Merivale may well, though, have been referring to a version of it that Towne had painted in oil.

by Richard Stephens


  1. 1 Autobiography of Dean Merivale with Selections from his Correspondence, ed. Judith Ann Merivale, London, 1889, p.168.

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