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

View of Saint Peter's Square, Rome

Giovanni Paolo Panini (Piacenza 1691-1765 Rome)
View of Saint Peter's Square, Rome
oil on canvas
46¾ x 48½ in. (118.8 x 123.2 cm.)
Supplied to William Holbech (1693/6-1771) before 1750 and installed by him at Farnborough Hall, Warwickshire; and by descent to his nephew, William Holbech, M.P. (d. 1812); and by descent to his son, William Holbech (d. 1856); and by descent to his son, Ven. Charles William Holbech, honorary Canon of Worcester and Archdeacon of Coventry (d. 1901); and by descent to his grandson, William Hugh Holbech (d. 1914); and by descent to his brother Ronald Herbert Acland Holbech (d. 1956) by whom sold in 1929, with other works by the artist and by Canaletto, to the following.
with Savile Gallery, London, 1929.
with Knoedler & Co., New York, 1930, where acquired by
Private collection, New York (probably Vincent Astor).
Helen Hull, formerly Mrs. Vincent Astor, and by descent to the present owner.
C. Burrows, 'Letter from New York,' Apollo, II, no. 64, April, 1930, pp. 276, 278.
G. Nares, 'Farnborough Hall, Warwickshire, II', Country Life, CXVI, 18 February 1954, pp. 431-33.
N. Pevsner, Warwickshire, Harmondsworth, 1966, p. 293.
E. Croft-Murray, Decorative Painting in England, 1537-1837, London, 1970, vol. 2, p. 179.
G. Beard, Decorative Plasterwork in Great Britain, London, 1975, p. 233.
G. Jackson-Stops revised by J. Haworth, Farnborough Hall, London, 1999 (first ed. 1981), pp. 10 and 13.
M. Laskin and M. Pantazzi, eds., European and American Painting, Sculpture, and Decorative Arts, Ottawa, 1987, I, pp. 48-49, 51.
I. Hiller, 'Geschichte des Hauses und der Skulpturensammlung', in A. Scholl, Die Antiken Skulpturen in Farnborough Hall, sowie in Althorp House, Blenheim Palace, Lyme Park und Penrice Castle, Mainz, 1995, pp. 34, 37.
J. Cornforth, 'Farnborough Hall, Warwickshire - II: A Property of the National Trust and the Home of Mr. and Mrs. Geoffrey Holbech', Country Life, CXC, no. 29, 1996, pp. 50-53.
J. Cornforth, Early Georgian Interiors, New Haven, 2004, p. 196.
D. Marshall, 'Canaletto and Panini at Farnborough Hall', Art Bulletin of Victoria, no. 45, 2005.
M. Miers, The English country house: from the archives of Country Life, New York, 2009, p. 189.
A. Laing, 'Giovanni Paolo Panini's English Clients' in Roma Britannica: art patronage and cultural exchange in eighteenth-century Rome, eds. D. Marshall, S. Russell and K. Wolfe, London, 2010, pp. 115-118.

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Lot Essay

Giovanni Paolo Panini arrived in Rome in 1711, painting capricci and architectural pieces in a vigorous if slightly eccentric style, and by 1719, when he was admitted to the Academy of St. Luke and the virtuosi al Pantheon, he was a rising star in the Roman art world. From around 1719-1726 he was much in demand for decorative frescoes, including quadratura, ornament and landscape and other genres, often in collaboration with figure or flower painters. During this period he worked for Cardinal Patrizi at Villa Patrizi, Cardinal Annibale Albani at Palazzo Albani (now del Drago) alle Quattro Fontane, Livio de Carolis at Palazzo de Carolis, Cardinal Alberoni at Palazzo Alberoni, Innocent XIII Conti in the Quirinal and in the library of S. Croce in Gerusalemme. In 1724 he married Caterina Gosset, the sister-in-law of Nicolas Vleughels, the director of the French Academy in Rome, to which he was admitted in 1732, and as a result he was much patronized by the French. During the 1720s he developed his figure style away from the awkwardness of his early works into one that concentrated on groups of stylishly-dressed aristocrats and skillfully modelled bystanders, sibyls and pseudo-antique figures. These he noted down in drawings (such as a sketchbook in the British Museum) that he drew upon to populate his paintings. He also began to receive commissions to design and record temporary festivals, often for French ambassadors to Rome.

By the beginning of the 1730s Panini was developing a distinctive subgenre of the capriccio in which recognizable monuments are placed in imaginary topographical relationships, which were well-received in the classicizing era of Clement XII Corsini. In 1732 he was one of the panel of judges for the competition instituted by Clement for the Lateran façade, and in the following year painted an impressive View of Piazza del Quirinale for the pope. At about this time he was developing his best-known topographical subjects, interior views of St Peter's and the Pantheon, which were much in demand, to judge by the number of extant versions extending into the 1750s. By about 1734 he was beginning to attract the attention of English patrons, who ordered sets of Roman views, such as those at Marble Hill House (1738) and Castle Howard. In 1736, through Filippo Juvarra, he received important commissions from Philip V of Spain for scenes of the life of Christ in the Chinoiserie room at La Granja in Spain (1736). From as early as the 1720s he had been producing some vedute (view-paintings), initially based on prototypes by Gaspar van Wittel, and he developed the genre in subsequent decades in works that would include impressive panoramic views of the Forum or Palatine, although his staple genre was the capriccio rather than the veduta. He also expanded his repertory of church interiors, adding such churches as S. Paolo fuori le Mura and S. Agnese in Piazza Navona, as well as church interiors recording special events. His son by his first marriage, Giuseppe (1718-1805), began to support him in architectural and festival design projects.

By the 1740s Panini was at the peak of his powers, and evidently had a considerable workshop helping him meet demand, especially of capricci to be used as overdoors and other decorative installations. Giovanni Paolo was successful in elevating himself socially above the usual artisanal status of genre painters, and would sometimes include a self-portrait in paintings commissioned by the great and powerful. He also appears to have been successful financially, and owned a substantial palazzo in via Monserrato. He increasingly concentrated on important commissions, such as a view of the Lottery in Piazza Montecitorio (London, National Gallery, 1743-1744), the designs for the festival decorations for the birth of the Dauphin in Palazzo Farnese (Waddesdon Manor, 1751), or the view of an imaginary picture gallery housing the collection of Cardinal Valenti Gonzaga (Wadsworth Atheneum, 1749). In the mid-1750s he received an important series of commissions from the Duc de Choiseul, French ambassador to Rome and soon to become one of the most powerful men in France, that included his best-known compositions, Ancient Rome (Roma Antica) and Modern Rome (Roma Moderna). These large paintings, of which there are three sets (in Boston and Stuttgart, the Metropolitan Museum, and the Louvre) represent imaginary picture galleries based on the Valenti Gonzaga composition but hung with what purport to be Panini's own vedute of ancient and modern sites respectively (with corresponding pieces of sculpture). These paintings sum up the eighteenth-century canon of the greatest works of architecture and sculpture, and the equivalence between modern and ancient Rome. By this time Panini was being assisted by his son by his second marriage, Francesco (1748-1800), who was a skilled draughtsman and painter who continued his father's work after his death in 1765.

The Farnborough Hall paintings

The Piazza S. Pietro and the Campidoglio are important vedute by Panini painted in 1750 and originally installed, with other works by Panini and Canaletto, in the seat of the Holbech family, Farnborough Hall, Warwickshire (National Trust). Farnborough Hall had been inherited in 1717 by William Holbech (circa 1699-1771), who is documented on the Grand Tour in Florence, Rome and Venice from late 1732 until his return home at the end of April 1734 with his brother Hugh. Holbech is said to have gone on the Grand Tour to recover from a broken heart and to have spent a considerable time there prior to these documented appearances. During his time in Rome he acquired two Paninis, which were seen by an anonymous antiquary around 1746, who referred to various sculptures "all brought from Rome with two pictures, one of the Rotunda, and the other of diverse buildings by Panino" (British Library, Add. MS 6230, pp. 31-32). The Rotunda (the Pantheon) is a painting now in a private collection in New York, and is signed and dated 1734. The Diverse Buildings, which was probably one of Panini's capricci, has not been identified. On his Grand Tour Holbech seems also to have acquired two Canalettos, although they are not mentioned by the antiquary, who may only have had eyes for things Roman.

In about 1746-1747, Holbech remodelled the house by creating a Saloon, now the dining room, at the back of the house. This room, the entrance hall, the staircase, library and closet were stuccoed by William Perritt of York, and a bill for this work dated 14 November 1750 survives (or survived until recently; G. Beard, Decorative Plasterwork in Great Britain, London, 1975, p. 233). The two Canalettos acquired on the Grand Tour were installed in the Saloon, together with two new works commissioned from Canaletto, who was then in England and working nearby at Warwick Castle in 1748. The two Paninis acquired on the Grand Tour may have been installed in the Library, as Alastair Laing assumes (op. cit.), while three new works commissioned from Panini in Rome were placed in the Hall and Saloon: the Piazza S. Pietro for the overmantel in the Hall (fig. 1), the Campidoglio as the overmantel in the Saloon (fig. 2), and an Interior of St Peter's (now in Detroit) (fig. 3) on the adjacent wall facing the windows. Two of the Canalettos flanked the Campidoglio, while the others were on the opposite wall. The Interior of St Peter's was therefore effectively the fifth member of the Canaletto set, distinct from the two overmantels.

Holbech's installation of his Canalettos and Paninis in fixed stucco frames was unusual for England in 1750, and had probably been inspired by what he had seen on his Grand Tour in Northern Italy, where fixed stucco installations of canvases were common in the 1720s and 1730s (Cornforth, II, p. 51). The Campidoglio and the Interior of St Peter's are both signed and dated 1750, a date that corresponds to the payments for the stucco.

The commission for the new Paninis would have been made through an agent, possibly the Roman dealer in antiquities Belisario Amidei from whom some of the antique busts in the Hall were acquired in 1745, who was also a picture dealer; or perhaps the painter Pietro Berton, who on 7 December 1750 shipped a Panini to England.

The paintings were sold to Savile Gallery in 1929 and replaced by copies by one Mohammed Ayoub. The four Canalettos were exhibited at Savile Gallery in 1930 and entered the London art trade, finding their way at various times to Augsburg, Melbourne, Ottawa and a private collection. The Paninis seem to have been resold immediately to Knoedler & Co. in New York. When the stucco was removed from the library by Holbech's great-grandson, another William Holbech, shortly after his succession in 1812, the Interior of the Pantheon and the Diverse Buildings may have been taken down. Although there is no record of either painting being at Farnborough subsequently, the Interior of the Pantheon at least must have remained there, since it appeared at Knoedler's in 1930 at about the same time as the other Paninis, and was presumably acquired at the same time from the same source.

The Campidoglio was a rare subject for Panini: this is the only known extant version, apart from fictive versions in the Metropolitan Museum (1757) (figs. 4) and Louvre (1759) versions of his Roma Moderna composition (but not in the first Boston version of 1757). Probably Holbech insisted on the choice of subject in order to represent the centre of Rome's civic administration to complement the religious one of St Peter's. The Campidoglio may have been of interest to English patrons because it represented the seat of a form of government they were more comfortable with than the papacy. For example, Canaletto painted the subject, together with English subjects, for Thomas Hollis, 'the most bigoted of all Republicans' in 1755, who may have wanted to 'represent London as the heir to the legacy of Ancient Rome and Renaissance Italy' (see Michael Liversidge and Jane Farrington, eds., Canaletto and England, exhibition catalogue, Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery, London, 1993, p. 25). Canaletto also painted the subject for Sir Richard Neave, Ist Baronet (1731-1814) of Dagnam Park, Essex, at the end of his English stay or shortly afterwards (i.e. 1755-1766) (sold, Sotheby's, London, 10 July 2002, lot 8). Like Holbech, Neave mixed Venetian and Roman subjects, but his Roman subjects steer clear of St Peter's: the others were the Piazza del Quirinale and Piazza Navona. While Holbech had gone to both Venice and Rome and commissioned views of both cities, Rome sets the keynote for his decoration: antique busts line the Hall, and its religious and civic centres are the overmantels in the Hall and Saloon respectively.

The Piazza S. Pietro

The Piazza S. Pietro shows the piazza much as it appears today, apart from the absence of Valadier's late eighteenth-century clocks on the towers. Bernini's colonnade (1656-1667), both ends of which are visible, reaches out its arms to embrace the viewer. In the center of the piazza is the obelisk moved by Sixtus V in 1586 from the left side of the church where it had formed part of the Circus of Nero. On either side are two fountains, the one on the right by Carlo Maderno (1613) and the one on the left created to match it by Carlo Fontana in 1677. Beyond is the rectangular forecourt to the church, the piazza retta, leading to the façade by Maderno, completed in 1610, and the dome by Michelangelo, Giacomo della Porta and Domenico Fontana. To the right of the façade the roof of the Sistine Chapel is just visible, followed by the Cortile di S. Damaso, the palace of the Swiss Guards and the palace of Paul V. A Cardinal is being driven in a carriage across the piazza at the right in the direction of the Borgo Nuovo and Ponte S. Angelo with his blue-liveried retinue and subsidiary carriages. Unlike the later versions of the subject that depict the Duke de Choiseul, there seems to be no intent to portray any particular cardinal: the procession of a cardinal here is presented simply as characteristic activity within the piazza. Various groups of figures, including well-dressed women in brightly colored dresses, Swiss Guards, priests, gentlemen, idlers and a pilgrim are distributed around the piazza. In the foreground an imaginary heap of fallen masonry provides visual interest in an otherwise dead space.

Panini painted the Piazza S. Pietro on a number of occasions, and his works falls into two types, one with the viewpoint shifted slightly to left of the axis, as in the Farnborough Hall version, and one with it shifted slightly to the right. The first type is based on a composition by Gaspar van Wittel, of which there are numerous versions from 1684 until 1721 (Fig. 9 van Wittel). The work by Panini that seems closest to Van Wittel and therefore probably the earliest is the version in the Circolo della Caccia, Rome, which has been dated to the second half of the 1730s, but is probably a decade or so earlier. Another, on the London art market in 2002-2009, and a version with workshop participation at Sotheby's, Milan (20 November 2007, lot 137) and currently on the art market in Rome, are closer to an important painting in Toledo (Arisi no. 308) that is signed and dated 1741 (fig. 6).

Van Wittel employed a wide format (about 2:1), showed both of the end faces of the colonnade almost to their full extent, and introduced the theme of a heap of masonry to enliven the foreground. His choice of perspective implies a viewpoint located in the small piazza between the Borgo Nuovo and Borgo Vecchio, now the Piazza Pio XII at the top of the Via della Conciliazione. From this viewpoint a building at the left tended to interfere with the view of the end of the left arm, as can be seen from the Nolli map of 1748 (fig. 7) and Piranesi's etching of circa 1646-1648 where, in contrast to the Van Wittel-Panini tradition, the obelisk and center of the façade of St. Peter's are aligned (fig. 8). This is why in Van Wittel's paintings and in the Paninis closest to them there is a glimpse of the building on the corner of the Borgo Vecchio on the left. Another detail found in Van Wittel and the associated Paninis, including the Farnborough Hall picture, is what seems to be four bollards protecting a drain to the right of the right-hand fountain. In Van Wittel's painting, however, there is a drinking trough for horses nearby, which by Panini's day had been relocated to the small piazza between the Borgo Nuovo and Borgo Vecchio as can be seen in the Nolli map.

The Toledo picture shows Panini attempting to adapt the wide Van Wittel format to a less elongated format by extending the foreground and sky and cropping the left side, a process extended further in the Farnborough Hall version, where the field is almost square (as was presumably specified by Holbech and the stuccatore Perritt). As if recognizing the limits of adapting the Van Wittel composition to squarer formats, in 1754 Panini developed the second type with the viewpoint shifted to the right, which has the effect of bringing the end of the right arm of the colonnade under the palace of Paul V and creating a more dynamic composition. Nonetheless, he reverted to the first type for the large painting in the Duke of Sutherland collection (circa 1756-1757, Arisi no. 472) and in the fictive canvas in the three versions of the Roma Moderna composition.

The Campidoglio

The Campidoglio shows, from the right, the Palazzo dei Conservatori (no. 919 on Nolli's 1748 map, fig. 9), remodelled by Michelangelo from 1538, the Palazzo del Senatore (Nolli 920), remodelled by Michelangelo at the same time, and the Palazzo Nuovo (Nolli 918), completed to Michelangelo's design in the 1650s and 1660s. Between the Palazzo Senatorio and Palazzo Nuovo is a glimpse of the dome of Pietro da Cortona's SS. Luca e Martina. In the center of the piazza is the statue of Marcus Aurelius, installed there in 1538, with the surviving traces of its gilding emphasized to help it compete for attention with the colossal statues of the Dioscuri (Castor and Pollux) with their horses on the balustrade. These came from the Temple of Castor and Pollux beside the Circus Flaminius and had been dug up in about 1560 and installed on the balustrade in 1585 and 1590, together with the statues of trophies known as the Trofei di Mario (Trophies of Marius) from a triumphal arch of Domitian that had been reused for the Nymphaeum of Alexander Severus. On either side are two statues found on the Quirinal in 1635, Constantine the Great on the left and his son Constantine II on the right. At the ends of the balustrades are two milestones from the via Appia, the one on the left marking the seventh mile and the one on the right marking the first. Between the Dioscuri rises the cordonata, a pedestrian and horse ramp linking the Piazza d'Aracoeli to the Campidoglio, flanked at the bottom by two fountains created in 1587-1588 from two Egyptian crouching lions in black granite from the Temple of Isis in the Campo Marzio.

Canaletto based his views of the Campidoglio closely on Alessandro Specchi's engraving of 1692 (fig. 10), and Panini does so as well, which may seem surprising, since he, unlike Canaletto, was on the spot, but it was generally easier for vedutisti to start from an existing engraving if there was one. That Specchi was the source for both artists is demonstrated by the way the carriage ramp on the right, which did exist, is mirrored by one on the left, which did not. The right-hand ramp was remodelled in this form during the reign of Innocent XII (1691-1700) by Filippo Tittoni (1645-1713), who preceded Specchi as architetto del Popolo Romano (architect to the 'Roman People', i.e., the Campidoglio). The previous ramp was straight and clearly presented a problem for carriages which had to turn at ninety degrees at the bottom against the side of the cordonata, a problem eased by curving the mouth of the ramp. The ramp on the left, however, could never have been built without demolishing much of the staircase of S. Maria in Aracoeli, so Specchi presumably introduced it as a way of idealizing an image that glorified the Campidoglio and cleaned up what would have been an awkward junction with the steps of the Aracoeli staircase. The executed right-hand ramp was known as the Via dei Tre Pile, 'pile' being Romanesco dialect for the pots of the Pignatelli coat of arms that appear on top of the pedestal ornaments at the beginning of the ramp.

At the bottom right Panini shows a building that corresponds to the Ospizio de' Geronimi di S. Alessio (Nolli 983), which is also shown by Specchi and in Vasi's 1754 engraving. It has banded pilasters, an arched doorway, two stringcourses and an attic window below a low tiled roof. One difference is the fact that the pilasters in Panini are double, whereas those in Specchi and Vasi are single. This is probably an aesthetic choice by Panini: in his Charles III visiting Benedict XIV in the Quirinal Caffeaus (Arisi, no. 368) he also doubles the pilasters of Ferdindano Fuga's Caffeaus in an otherwise factual representation. Attached to this building is a short section of wall enclosing a small garden, and there is space between this wall and the parapet wall of the Campidoglio. According to Specchi and Vasi there was no such space, as is confirmed by Nolli's map of 1748. These details must be Panini's invention, prompted by the awkward junction of building and ramp.

On the façade of the Palazzo Senatorio, Panini depicts round disks bearing coats-of-arms on either side of the central bay of the Palazzo Senatorio. These do not appear in any other eighteenth-century representations, including Specchi, Vasi and Piranesi's near-contemporary view (1746-1748), but similar armorial disks are found in a drawing by Lievin Cruyl of 1665 (engraved in editions published in 1666 and 1689). Evidently such coats-of-arms were placed there on occasion, and the fact that Panini chose to show them may indicate a desire to heighten the ceremonial significance of the building; they also provide useful color accents. However, the framing surrounding the inscription above the central doorway bears only a casual relationship to the actual framing, suggesting he was interpreting the hints given by Specchi in his own architectural style.

Although Panini's point of departure was Specchi's print, he redrew the composition in a perspective better suited to his own purpose, as was customary for view-painters. He shifted the Palazzo Senatorio almost to the center of the composition, lowered the horizon line from the level of the top of the steps of the Palazzo Senatorio to the bottom, and shifted the vanishing point a little to the left. He reduced the foreshortening on the Palazzo Nuovo, but probably by more than he should have: having placed the horizon at ground level it was easy to make such adjustments without being too strict in the perspective construction. This shift in vanishing point should not have had the effect of making the cordonata converge in a fanlike way from left and right, rather than from the left as in Specchi, and Panini seems to have made this change to create a more energetic composition, where the three main components -- cordonata, Palazzo Nuovo and Palazzo dei Conservatori -- all converge steeply toward the scenographic backdrop of the Palazzo Senatorio. This is combined with a subtle asymmetry emphasized by the shifted positions of the Dioscuri relative to the Palazzo Senatorio, and the glimpse of the above-mentioned building at the right.

As a result of these changes, the cordonata becomes the main field of interest, allowing Panini to distribute across it his characteristic repertory of (underscaled) figures. Panini has in fact reconfigured the cordonata as a kind of Scalinata di Spagna (Spanish Steps), which he would represent a few years later in 1756-1758 in a drawing in the Metropolitan Museum. The cordonata was in reality never so broad, nor so suitable a space for social interaction: it was and is primarily the means for getting from the Piazza di Aracoeli to the Piazza del Campidoglio.

David Marshall

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