Francis Towne (1739 - 1816)
  • Inside the Colosseum
  • Inside of the Colosseum from the Emperor's seat, looking towards the Palatine Hill
Pencil, pen and black ink, watercolour
  • image width 318mm,
  • image length 471mm
laid paper with a fleur de lis watermark and a vertical crease down its centre
mounted by the artist
  • sheet, recto, lower left
  • “F.Towne delt / Rome. 1781 / No.11”
  • in brown ink
  • artist's mount, verso
  • “No.11 / Inside the Coloseo taken from the Emperor’s seat / looking towards the Palatine Mount ad Sepolchro de Cajo Cestio from 11 till 2 O Clock / 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.2.17).

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
Pa Klassik Mark - Malare I Rom pa 1780-talet, Stockholm National Museum, 1982, no. 205
Francis Towne, Tate Gallery; Leeds City Art Gallery, 24 June 1997 - 4 January 1998, no. 17
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, Francis Towne - Lone Star of Water-Colour Painting, Charles Skilton: London, 1962, pp. 79, 124


circa 1776-1781

This is a south-west view of the interior of the Colosseum, in Towne’s day used as a Christian church with stations of the cross, some of which Towne features. The view looks beyond the Colosseum and down the Via di S. Gregorio, with the Palatine Hill on the right, to the tomb of Caius Cestus. This pyramid tomb was just outside the ancient perimeter wall of Rome at its southern edge. Towne barely depicts the tomb and its peak is only just visible a little left of the centre of the picture, above the middle level of the Colosseum’s architecture.

Views of the Colosseum designed to show off its contemporary use as a church were common and treatments by Louis Ducros and William Pars (Tate) exist. A similar but less finished view by “Warwick” Smith exists at the British Museum. Towne’s version is set further back so that more of the ruin is in view. A 1783 sketch by Nicolas-Didier Boguet is closer to Towne’s.1

by Richard Stephens


  1. 1 Nicolas-Didier Boguet, Colosseum, ca. 1783 (Hornsby 2002).

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