This watercolour is a remarkable display of the topographical accuracy and feeling for atmosphere that made Lusieri a keenly sought-after view painter among well-heeled travellers visiting Rome, Naples and Sicily on their Grand Tour. It is also important as his earliest dated work. Together with Jakob Philipp Hackert and Abraham-Louis-Rodolphe Ducros, Lusieri was one of the most influential of view painters in watercolour and gouache active in Italy in the late 18th century. He is however perhaps the least known of the group: his painstaking technique, based on detailed underdrawing made using a particularly hard pencil latterly sent out for him from the pencil-maker Middleton in London, meant that his compositions often took more than three months to complete. His artist activity was further restricted after 1799 when he worked in Athens as agent for the 7th Earl of Elgin in the protracted negotiations for the purchase of the famous Marbles.
Two other watercolours of this panorama of Rome are known, an undated view formerly in the collection of the Earl of Elgin at Broomhall and another signed and dated 'Titta Lusier 1783' now in the collection of the Akademie der Bildenden Künste, Vienna (F. Spirito, op. cit., nos. 5 and 7). The three views are nearly identical in their depiction of the topography of the city, but differ in details of staffage and the vegetation that frames the foreground. The relationship between these three watercolours provides an excellent illustration of 18th century studio practice. The drawing formerly at Broomhall was from a group of watercolours that Lord Elgin bought from the artist's heirs in 1824, and so probably formed part of the artist's 'reference material' retained in his studio until his death. That composition does not include figures and gives less prominence to the trees to the left. As was common among artists making popular watercolour views, it seems likely that Lusieri made the Elgin watercolour as a master copy of the scene and then used it as the basis for later commissions. This is certainly the case for the watercolour now in Vienna since by 1783 Lusieri was living in Naples. That view was almost certainly commissioned by Graf Anton von Lamberg-Sprizenstein, Austrian Ambassador at the Bourbon Court, who donated it to the Akademie in 1822. The early but probably not contemporary French inscription on the present drawing may indicate that it was destined for a French patron.
Monte Mario, to the north-west of Rome, is the highest hill in the vicinity of the city, and so was a popular view point for tourists and artists. Goethe noted in his biography of Jakob Philipp Hackert that the viewpoint 'has the most beautiful view of Rome; all the foreigners who wished to take in the panorama of the city visited the hill'. Hackert himself made a large gouache of the view (formerly Berlin, Kupferstichkabinett, destroyed in World War II) known through a print by his brother Georg, which was extremely similar in composition to the present watercolour. That gouache was made when the Hackert brothers were lodging with Donna Giulia Falconieri at the Villa Mellini on Monte Mario in September-October 1781, and so postdates Lusieri's treatment of the subject. The foreground of the present watercolour shows the gardens of the Villa, now the Rome Astronomical Observatory.
Another view of Rome from the same angle but closer to the subject and drawn entirely in black lead, is in the Getty Museum, Los Angeles (sold Christie's, New York, 24 January 2001, lot 82), while a watercolour of similar dimensions to the present work but looking in the opposite direction from the Janiculum Hill out across Rome toward Monte Mario is in a British private collection (F. Spirito, op. cit., no. 10).
Nothing of Lusieri's career before the execution of this panorama is known with certainty. His name does not appear in Roman parish records for the district around the Campo Marzio where fellow landscape painters such as the Welshman Thomas Jones, Carlo Labruzzi and Giovanni Volpato lived (F. Spirito, op. cit., p. 29, note 32), but his friend Jones' description of him as 'Sig're Giambattista Lusier, a Roman, usually called D[on] Titta' suggests that he was a native of the city (T. Jones (ed. A.P. Oppé), 'Memoirs of Thomas Jones', The Walpole Society, XXXII (1946-48), p. 112). His date of birth is also uncertain: previously recorded as 1755, Fabrizia Spirito notes that a memorial raised after his death in 1821 gives his age as 70, suggesting he was born four years earlier than previously thought (F. Spirito, op. cit,, p. 109).
In 1782 Lusieri moved to Naples, where he made a number of panoramic watercolours for the Bourbon Court, the British Envoy Sir William Hamilton and a number of Grand Tourists. In 1799, having failed to recruit a suitable English artist, the 7th Earl of Elgin employed Lusieri to travel with him to Constantinople where he was to take up the post of Ambassador to the Sublime Porte. Under the terms of the contract Elgin received everything Lusieri made in return for an annual salary, an arrangement that continued until the artist's death. In 1801 Lusieri was sent to Athens as Elgin's agent both to record classical sites and to negotiate the ambassador's controversial purchases of antique sculpture from the Parthenon and elsewhere, later bought by the British Museum. Following Lusieri's death in 1821 Lord Elgin's representatives endeavoured to bring the contents of his studio back to Britian, but the greater part was lost at sea. A portfolio of landscape watercolours of Rome, Naples and Southern Italy where purchased from Lusieri's heirs by Lord Elgin in 1824, and were kept together at Broomhall until twenty were dispersed at Sotheby's, London, on 30 June 1986.