The Baths of Caracalla, Rome

The Baths of Caracalla, Rome, c.1886. Oil on canvas, 30 x 65 inches (76 x 165 cm). Collection of the U.K. Government Art Collection, accession no. 13897.

This painting depicts the Baths of Caracalla, the second largest of Rome’s public baths, which were built in Rome during the reign of Emperor Caracalla between AD 211 and 216. The baths are located at the foot of the Aventine Hill. In 1886 Howard made a three-month visit to Italy during which he again sketched with Giovanni Costa on the Palatine.

The Baths of Caracalla, Rome is a large painting finished in the studio rather than the preliminary sketch. Two women in traditional Roman dress can be seen lazily stretched out on huge flat rocks to the left overlooking the ruins of the Baths. In this case the human figures are subsidiary to the architectural features and landscape, which are the primary focus of the painting. According to Harrison and Newall, “Howard’s view is towards the south-east, with the ancient city walls close to Porta S. Sebastiano and the Porta Latina beyond what was then the open countryside and hills on either side of the Appian Way shown in the distance. On the left side of the composition are seen what appears to be the late sixteenth-century church of S. Ceraseo de’ Appia and the Renaissance Casa del Cardinale Bessarione. The structure of the Baths themselves is shown divided by the central axis which formed an atrium off which the swimming pool (natatio), the cold hall (frigidarium), and the hot room (caldarium) were placed.”

A watercolour and gouache version of this composition is in the collection of Castle Howard. It is painted in darker, richer, and more sombre colours. The bright green lizard seen in the foreground of the oil version for some reason was not included in the watercolour.


Harrison, Colin and Christopher Newall. “Giovanni Costa and The Etruscans – Painters of the Italian Landscape.” The Pre-Raphaelites and Italy. Oxford: Ashmolean Museum, 2010, cat. 111, 172.

Pieri, Giuliana. “Giovanni Costa and George Howard: Art, Patronage and Friendship.” The Volume of the Walpole Society LXXVI (2014): 289-307.

Last modified 18 December 2022