Francis Towne (1739 - 1816)
  • The Colosseum
ca. 1781/10/30
Pencil, pen and black ink, watercolour, gum
  • image width 312mm,
  • image length 464mm
laid paper
mounted by the artist
  • sheet, recto, lower left
  • “F.Towne delt / Rome 1781 / No 23”
  • in brown ink; inscription is cut off at the bottom edge, presumably when being mounted
  • artist's mount, verso
  • “No.23 / Coloseo with the Baths of Titus & Arch of Constantine taken from the Palatine mount / Rome Francis Towne delt. [“Octr. 30th 1780” scratched out] 1781”
  • the year in dark brown ink, the rest in brown ink
Object Type

The Colosseum
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.2.28).

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. 184 as 'Coliseo'
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. 200
Adrian Bury, Francis Towne - Lone Star of Water-Colour Painting, Charles Skilton: London, 1962, pp. 75, 125
Timothy Wilcox, Francis Towne, Tate Publishing: London, 1997, p. 62


circa 1776-1781

As Towne’s inscription mentions, the view is from the Palatine Hill, very near his position when drawing FT183. It was a popular vantage point for Towne’s contemporaries, including John “Warwick” Smith and Thomas Jones, who adopted very similar positions in their drawings.

Towne made a version of this work dated 1799 (FT602).

Although Towne has attempted to alter the date inscribed on this drawing to suggest a later date of execution, the composition itself is consistent with the earliest phase of his Roman studies in late 1780, when Towne drew his subjects as distant objects (for example FT172, FT173, FT174, FT175, FT177, FT178, FT179, FT180), in contrast to the drawings of 1781 whose foregrounds are a major part of the composition (for example FT197, FT199, FT202, FT203, FT204).


by Richard Stephens

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