GIOVANNI PAOLO PANINI
Piacenza 1691 – 1765 Rome
Capriccio of Roman monuments with the Colosseum and the Arch of Constantine
Signed and dated lower right: I.P.PANINI / ROMAE . 1743
Canvas: 29 x 38 ½ in / 73.7 x 97.8 cm
Frame size: 38 x 47 in / 96.5 x 119.4 cm
Arthur Munro-Ferguson, Esq, Novar, Ross, Scotland;
by whom sold at Christie’s London, 4th July 1986, lot 64;
acquired by the late Jan Mitchell, USA
Dr David Marshall has confirmed that this painting is an autograph work by Giovanni Paolo Panini
This newly-rediscovered painting represents a fresh approach to one of Panini’s favourite subjects, a capriccio view of the Colosseum and Arch of Constantine with other famous Roman monuments. The buildings depicted here epitomise ancient Rome; bathed in sparkling light, they would have made a delightful souvenir for a Grand Tourist on his return to chilly northern Europe. This painting, with its panoramic array of classical structures beneath a blue, cloud-flecked sky, is among the most pleasing and spontaneous of Panini’s twenty-odd compositions which feature the Colosseum and Arch of Constantine. The humble, yet graceful modern Romans who people the work are depicted with a dancing dexterity of brushwork. Particularly beautiful are the three women at the basin on the left, the one in shadow striking the elegant pose of a classical statue, while the girl in red provides a dazzling focus of colour. The poses of Panini’s figures were carefully studied from life: the girl on the left is a variant of a drawing on folio 77 of the British Museum sketchbook.
The painting was made in 1743, at a point when Panini was exploring his ‘compilation’ mode but while he was still observing the site afresh. This kind of composition, with the Colosseum and the Arch of Constantine, goes back to prototypes by Gaspar van Wittel (circa 1652/4-1736), such as the painting of 1711 in the Galleria Sabauda, Turin. Panini seems to have started with this model in works that appear from as early as 1734, that is, from about the time that he began to work for Grand Tour patrons, such as the painting signed and dated I.P.P.1734 (formerly in the collection of the Earl of Dunraven; Arisi no.224), which has echoes of Van Wittel in the way the staffage figures are disposed.
At about the same time, Panini began to use the Van Wittel prototype as the basis for ‘compilation’ capricci, adding famous statues and monuments from other locations in the foreground (such as the three columns of the Temple of Castor and Pollux from the Forum, or Trajan’s Column) and invented pieces of fallen masonry, such as the Pyramid of Cestius, in the background. In every one of these examples, as with Van Wittel, the view is from the north, taken from a point on the slopes of the Esquiline or near the road leading up behind the Tor de’ Conti and the Imperial Fora (now absorbed into the beginning of the Via dei Fori Imperiali). From this viewpoint the intact side of the Colosseum is mostly seen, with perhaps a glimpse of the ruined side, with the Arch of Constantine seen from a little to the right of front.
Here, however, the Colosseum is seen from a view west of the building, close to the point where the Sacra Via, coming from the Arch of Titus, emerges beside the platform of the Temple of Venus and Rome. This makes this composition unique in Panini’s oeuvre and was probably the result of revisiting the site afresh. The Arch of Constantine, however, retains the orientation of the earlier pictures; topographically speaking, we should see it from a point more to the right.
An intriguing detail is the glimpse of the campanile of San Clemente seen between the Colosseum and the Arch of Constantine. This cannot be seen today because of intervening buildings, but if one draws sight lines on the Nolli map it is evident that it was not then visible between the monuments, although it comes close: the viewpoint needs to be a little further to the right, towards the Palatine. This freshly-observed detail draws the eye into the painting and skilfully interweaves the influence of Rome’s classical heritage down the ages. Built on a Roman nobleman’s house and serving as a church since the 1st century AD, San Clemente had been given its eighteenth century classical form by Carlo Stefano Fontana in 1719, as a commission from Pope Clement XI. Although Panini’s painting is dominated by the monuments of pagan Rome, he carefully introduces a building from the Christian present.
Beyond the Arch of Constantine are the substructures of the Temple of Claudius, little changed today, and at the far right is a glimpse of cypresses on the Palatine. Another interesting detail is the way that the Meta Sudans, the antique fountain in front of the Arch of Constantine, is placed almost exactly on the central line of the picture. This is almost certainly deliberate, serving to emphasize the symmetry of the features on either side. There is now little left of the Van Wittel compositional prototype.
To the left of the composition is the Medici Vase, located at the Villa Medici until 1780. This seems to be the first version of The Colosseum and the Arch of Constantine to incorporate the Vase, as none of the earlier versions include it, while later ones do (Arisi no.375, 377 (1747)). In the shadow of the Vase is an ancient granite basin which was discovered in the Forum and installed there as a fountain by Gicomo della Porta in 1593.
Closing the composition at the right are the iconic three Corinthian columns of the Temple of Castor and Pollux (c.430 BC) (much copied as Grand Tourist souvenirs in bronze, lapis lazuli and precious wood), which are actually located in the Forum near the fountain. The temple is frequently combined by Panini with the Colosseum/Arch of Constantine motif, no doubt because it gave a strong vertical accent. Below the temple stands one of the Medici Lions, forming a link between the Classical world and the Renaissance. The lion with left paw raised, commissioned by the Medici from Flaminio Vacca in 1594, is a mirror image of the classical lion owned by them. Both lions stood in the Villa Medici until 1787, when they were taken to Florence and placed in the Loggia dei Lanzi. The ‘modern’ Medici lion is unique in Panini’s capricci, but appears in the three versions of Panini’s Roma Moderna composition, in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (Arisi no.471), the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (no.475) and the Musée du Louvre, Paris (no.500). Vacca’s statue was much admired and considered to be better than the antique original.
With its mixture of precision and freedom, its exquisitely controlled light and harmonious placing of figures, this painting represents a high point in Panini’s oeuvre of the 1740s, when the production of capricci was still fresh and exciting. Stylistically, it can be compared to the painting of Piazza Santa Maria Maggiore, circa 1743-44, in the Coffee House of the Palazzo del Quirinale, Rome (Arisi no.322) and The Lottery in Piazza di Montecitorio, circa 1743-44 (National Gallery, London).
Information based on a report by Dr David Marshall.
Note on provenance
This painting was formerly in the collection of Arthur Munro-Ferguson of Novar House in the Highlands of Scotland. Novar House was built in 1720 but extended circa 1770 by General Sir Hector Munro (1726-1805), who had a distinguished career in the Army in India, with victories over the princes of Hindustan at Buxar (1764) and over the French at Pondicherry (1778). His son was killed by a tiger, an event commemorated by the General’s enemy Tipu, Sultan of Mysore, in the famous lifesize automaton of a tiger eating an Englishman known as ‘Tipu’s Tiger’ (Victoria and Albert Museum, London). Arthur Munro-Ferguson’s contribution to Novar was the development of the beautiful gardens.
GIOVANNI PAOLO PANINI
Piacenza 1691 – 1765 Rome
Giovanni Paolo Panini, who spent most of his career in Rome, was one of the outstanding view painters of the eighteenth century. His work epitomises the Papal city in the same way that Canaletto’s views conjure up eighteenth century Venice; both painters benefited from the patronage of aristocratic Grand Tourists.
Panini trained in Piacenza with the quadraturisti Giuseppe Natali (1661-1722) and Andrea Galluzzi (fl.1716-1743) and the stage designer Francesco Galli-Bibiena. In 1711 he went to Rome to study figure drawing, working with Benedetto Luti, a painter of small-scale religious and secular subjects. He also studied with the landscape painter Andrea Locatelli. Panini worked on the decoration of Roman palaces; his first documented commission (1719-25) is for frescoes of festoons and putti for the Villa Patrizi beyond the Porta Pia (destroyed 1911).
In 1718 Panini became a member of the Congregazione dei Virtuosi al Pantheon. The following year he was nominated to the Accademia di S Luca, where he taught perspective drawing and in 1754 served as principal. To celebrate his entry into the Accademia he painted Alexander visiting the tomb of Achilles, 1719 (Galleria Accademia Nazionale S Luca, Rome). In 1722 Panini was commissioned by Pope Innocent XIII to decorate the mezzanine apartment of the Palazzo Quirinale. His most complete surviving fresco cycle is that for the Villa Montalto Grazioli in Frascati, commissioned by Baldassare Erba Odescalchi and dating from the 1720s and 30s.
From 1716-17 Panini began to paint vedute. He was influenced by Gaspar van Wittel’s precise rendering of townscapes, Salvator Rosa’s dashing figures and Giovanni Ghisolfi’s capricci. Panini’s architectural capricci often include historical or mythological themes, such as Alexander cutting the Gordian knot (Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore, MD). Occasionally he included religious scenes, as in the four canvases commissioned by Philip V of Spain to decorate the palace of S Ildefonso at La Granja. Panini’s first known vedute reale, views of Castello di Rivoli (Castello, Racconigi and Museo Civica d’Arte Antiqua, Turin) were commissioned in 1723. However, his fame lies in his views of Rome, both the monuments of antiquity and the splendid modern buildings, enlivened with groups of graceful figures. Panini frequently depicted festivals, such as the Preparations in Piazza Navona to celebrate the birth of the Dauphin, 1729 (Louvre, Paris).
Around 1745 Panini began to paint portraits. He also made paintings of real or imaginary gallery interiors, a genre popularised by seventeenth century Flemish painters. Among these is The gallery of Cardinal Silvio Valenti Gonzaga, 1749 (Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, CT). Panini’s last signed painting is The Colosseum, 1764 (Sternberg Palace, National Gallery, Prague), in which the colours and brushwork are lighter and the forms less distinct than in his earlier work.
As a stage designer, Panini in 1735 he worked with the architect Ferdinando Fuga on the decorations for the funeral of Maria Clementina Sobiesky. He also worked as an architect, designing the chapel of S Teresa (inaugurated 1745) in S Maria della Scala, Rome. Panini was a highly influential vedute painter; among his pupils were Hubert Robert (in Rome from 1754) and his son Francesco Panini (b.1738). Panini died in Rome in 1765.
The work of Giovanni Paolo Panini is represented in the Palazzo Quirinale, Rome; the Gemäldegalerie, Berlin; the Louvre, Paris; the Walters Art Galery, Baltimore, MD; the Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, CT; the Detroit Institute of Arts; the Toronto Art Gallery; the Sternberg Palace, National Gallery, Prague and the Pushkin Museum, Moscow.
 Panini’s major patrons were Roman aristocrats and prelates, as well as visiting royalty and ambassadors. About forty per cent of his Grand Tour clients were French, because of his association with the Académie de France in Rome. He also worked for English patrons such as the 4th Earl of Carlisle, who acquired a number of his paintings for Castle Howard.
 See Ferdinando Arisi, Gian Paolo Panini et i Fasti della Roma del ‘700, Rome 1986, cat. no.224, 225 (dated 1734), 226 (1734), 230, 231 (1735), 233 (1735), 240, 242 (1736), 285 (1740), 288, 292, 299, 301, 316 (1742), 375, 377, 390, 426, 451, 453, 464, 465, 503.
 See Laura Laureati in Rome, Chiostro del Bramante/Venice, Museo Correr, Gaspare Vanvitelli e le Origini del Vedutismo, 2002-2003, exh. cat. by Claudio Strinati et. al., pp.98-99, no.13, illus. in colour.
 See Alastair Laing, in Roma Britannica, 2010.
 Cf. Piranesi’s Veduta del’Arco di Costantino, e dell’Anfiteatro Flavio detto il Colosseo from the Vedute, which is made from a higher point on the slopes of the Palatine, which moves the view of the Colosseum a little to the right, but with the same substructures on the left.
 Copies of both are at the Villa Medici in Rome.
 See Haskell and Penny, p.248.