Francis Towne (1739 - 1816)
  • Inside the Colosseum
Pencil, pen and black ink, watercolour
  • image width 319mm,
  • image length 473mm
laid paper
mounted by the artist on paper watermarked “J WHATMAN”
  • sheet, recto
  • lower left “F.Towne delt / Rome.1780. No.1”
  • in brown ink
  • artist's mount, verso
  • “No.1 / Inside the Coloseo [“Octr 16 - 1780” scratched out] from 11 till 3 O Clock / Rome Francis Towne. delt.”
  • in 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) and given by him in 1816 to the present owner, the British Museum, London (Nn.2.11).

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'
unidentified exhibition, British Museum, 1981
Francis Towne, Tate Gallery; Leeds City Art Gallery, 24 June 1997 - 4 January 1998, no. 16
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. 199
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, pp. 31, 73, 124
Paul Oppé, 'Francis Towne, Landscape Painter', The Walpole Society: London, 1920, p. 109


This is an interior view of the amphitheatre begun by Vespasian, which, known as the Colosseum, was perhaps the most famous of Rome’s ancient ruins. Such was its iconic status that travellers newly arrived in Rome would often take an initial wander through the city in order to view it before starting on more formal and systematic guided tours of the monuments. This definitive status may have been why Towne chose to open his series of Roman views with this drawing and it is one of many drawings Towne made of the site (FT181FT182FT186FT191FT192FT193FT195). 

Towne has deliberately focused attention on the Colosseum’s ruined state, ignoring visitors and the monument’s use as a Christian church, aspects of the Colosseum that were popular among UK artists and that provided subject matter for Towne later on (FT181). Nonetheless, depictions of ruined stonework and overgrowth were also archetypal treatments of the Colosseum, intended to provoke reflective thoughts on the transience of human achievements. Towne’s viewpoint for the drawing was looking east, close to a John Robert Cozens drawing of 1778 and precisely the same as another 1770s view by the Frenchman Louis Chaix, which also features the boulders at the centre of Towne’s view.1

The recto inscription of Towne’s drawing is cut off towards the bottom, where the paper was itself cut in preparation for mounting. This suggests that the inscription was made before mounting was considered.

by Richard Stephens


  1. 1 Louis Chaix, Colosseum, 1770s (Cailleux 1991).

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