Francis Towne (1739 - 1816)
  • The Tarpeian Rock
Pencil, pen and black ink, watercolour with gum
  • image width 407mm,
  • image length 470mm
two sheets, the larger watermarked "WHATMAN"
mounted by the artist
  • sheet, recto, lower right
  • “F.Towne delt / Rome No.48. / 1781”
  • on the smaller sheet
  • sheet, verso, lower right
  • “F Towne delt.”
  • on the larger sheet
  • artist's mount, verso
  • “No.43 / Tarpein Rock 1781 [the year in dark brown ink, over scratched-out “July 3rd, 1781”] / Rome Francis Towne. delt”
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.1.16).

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. 182 as 'Tarpeian Rock'
unidentified exhibition, British Museum, 1981
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
Adrian Bury, Francis Towne - Lone Star of Water-Colour Painting, Charles Skilton: London, 1962, p. 126
Henri Lemaitre, Le Paysage Anglais a l'Aquarelle 1760-1951, Bordas: Paris, 1955, p. 158
Paul Oppé, 'Francis Towne, Landscape Painter', The Walpole Society: London, 1920, p. 111


The Tarpeian Rock, at the southern corner of the Capitoline Hill, was the place from where convicts were thrown to their death in ancient Rome. However, the scene was less threatening than its history might suggest. Miss Berry, who visited in 1784, commented: “I believe one might almost be thrown with impunity, the lower part is so much raised and the upper part so much sunk. It is all covered with mean houses, so that there is no particular spot to which one can address one’s veneration.”1 Towne has made the Tarpeian Rock look more dramatic than it actually was, partly by including tiny figures to distort the scale, and partly by the addition of the small strip of plummeting foreground at the foot of his drawing. As Towne had already signed the larger sheet, he may not have initially intended to include the small lower portion, but added it to give depth at some later point.

Another drawing of the Tarpeian Rock, probably the work of a pupil of Richard Wilson, has much in common with Towne’s drawing but follows Miss Berry’s impression of the site as having lost its danger and height.2

Some of Towne’s washes on the building in the left mid-ground have run.


by Richard Stephens


  1. 1 Berry 1865, vol.1, p.99, entry for 20 March 1784.
  2. 2 Pupil of Richard Wilson, The Tarpeian Rock, late eighteenth century (Ford 1951).

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