Giovanni Paolo Panini (Piacenza 1691/2-1765 Rome)
Giovanni Paolo Panini (Piacenza 1691/2-1765 Rome)

View of Piazza del Popolo, Rome

Giovanni Paolo Panini (Piacenza 1691/2-1765 Rome)
View of Piazza del Popolo, Rome
signed with initials and indistinctly dated 'I.P.P. 17**' (on the stone lower right)
oil on canvas
34 x 53¾ in. (86.4 x 136.6 cm.)
with Alberto Castro, Rome.
with The Walpole Gallery, London.
with Whitfield Fine Art, London, 1996, where purchased by the late owner.
F. Arisi, Gian Paolo Panini, Piacenza, 1962, pp. 122-123, no. 45, fig. 77, as dating to 1721-25 (with incorrect dimensions 90 x 120 cm.). E.P. Bowron, 'A View of the Piazza del Popolo, Rome by Giovanni Paolo Panini', The Nelson Gallery and Atkins Museum Bulletin, V, January 1981, p. 48.
F. Arisi, Gian Paolo Panini e i fasti della Roma del'700, Rome, 1986, p. 300, no. 152 (with incorrect dimensions 90 x 120 cm.).
E.W. Rowlands, The Collections of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art - Italian Paintings 1300-1800, Kansas City, 1996, p. 410, under 'versions no. 3', as dating to 1738/41 (with incorrect dimensions 90 x 120 cm.).
London, Walpole Gallery, Treasures of Italian Art, 19 April-24 June 1988, no. 21.

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Lot Essay

The Piazza del Popolo served as the major ceremonial entrance to Rome for all visitors coming from the north. Seen here from a bird's eye view -- probably the top of Porta del Popolo -- Panini offers the viewer an excellent perspective on the unpaved piazza, the newly constructed twin churches of S. Maria di Montesanto and S. Maria de'Miracoli and the spectacular Roman horizon.

Panini's view of the 'modern' Piazza, reflects important planning and architectural innovations of the 16th and 17th centuries. Diagonal roadways on either side of the Via del Corso allowed additional access to Rome's historic heart -- to the right the Via Leonina (now via Ripetta) added under Leo X in 1518; to the left is Pope Clement VII's, Via Clementina (now Via del Babuino). In the latter decades of the 16th century more decorative enhancements were made, including a central fountain and the installation of an Egyptian obelisk from the Circus Maximus under Sixtus V in 1589.

Building activity abated for several decades until Pope Alexander VII commissioned the most dramatic alteration to date - the addition of Carlo Rainaldi's churches of S. Maria di Montesanto and S. Maria dei Miracoli, constructed between 1661 and 1671. Most notable among the residential buildings shown flanking the square is the walled garden of the Augustinian friars of Santa Maria del Popolo, at left. The curved walls of the Pincio on the east and west, so integral to the square today, were not added until the 19th century.

The warm light of the evening sky outlines the abundant churches and palazzi along the horizon. Sweeping left to right Panini shows the Villa Medici, the double-bell towers of SS. Trinità dei Monti; the campanile of S. Andrea delle Fratte and Palazzo del Quirinale are visible in the distance as are the towers and façade of Sant'Atanasio dei Greci. To the right of the gully created by the Via del Corso appear the domes of Il Gesù and the Pantheon, the arcaded tower of the Palazzo Palma and the domes of S. Carlo ai Catinari, Sant'Andrea della Valle and Sant'Agostino.

Panini's site specific views such as this, known as vedute presse dai luoghi, show the influence of Gaspar van Wittel, called Vanvitelli. Between 1680 and 1718 Vanvitelli produced sixteen views of Piazza del Popolo (seven in tempera and the rest in oil) which served as direct prototypes for Panini's compositions. The most closely related work is a gouache dated 1683 (fig. 1; see G. Briganti, Gaspar van Wittel, Rome, 1966, p. 165, no. 1), sharing precisely the same vantage point and lighting.

Eliot W. Rowlands and Edgar Peters Bowron have most recently catalogued four autograph versions by Panini of View of Piazza del Popolo (op. cit., pp. 406-412). They include: a small work in a private collection, New York, possibly a modello for the present painting, dating to circa 1738 (oil on canvas, 11 x 19 in.); a painting at Kenwood, London, dated 1738 (oil on canvas, 38 x 53 in.); the painting dated 1741 in The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City (oil on canvas, 38 x 52 in.); and the present painting, which has until now been catalogued with incorrect dimensions (90 x 120 cm.) -- an error that Arisi acknowledged in correspondence with a former owner.

Arisi consistently dates the present painting to the mid-1720s, based in part on the omission of the Scalinata della Trinità dei Monti (or Spanish Steps), which not constructed until 1723-26. Rowlands and Bowron date the present view to after the construction of the Spanish Steps, circa 1738-41. They point out that this important topographical error was likely due to Panini's reliance on Vanvitelli's 1683 prototype.

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