These views of Rome, one showing the Piazza del Popolo which was the tourist's point of arrival in the city and the second, the majestic view from the right hand bend of the Tiber, were painted by Joli as overdoors for one of the most sophisticated interiors at Chesterfield House, which, with Norfolk House, Spencer House and Lansdowne House, was one of the series of new London mansions that were among the most spectacular achievements of mid-eighteenth-century architecture in Britain.
Antonio Joli, who had been born at Modena, worked in Perugia, in Rome and at Venice before coming to London where he was employed as a scene painter at the King's Theatre in the Haymarket between 1744 and 1748. He had left England by 1750, although he would continue to work for British patrons, both in Spain and at Naples. During his London years Joli found a ready market both for variants of Italian views which he had already developed and for views of London, the popularity of some of which is attested by the number of versions he himself executed. Joli's work for the stage led directly to the only extant decorative scheme he painted in London, in the hall off No. 4 Maids of Honour Row, Richmond, then owned by John James Heidegger, manager of the opera at the King's Theatre, and more recently by Edward Croft-Murray, the first scholar to pay due attention to the artist.
Joli's work at Richmond is relatively modest in scale. His first scheme on a more ambitious scale was for the hall of Richmond House, Whitehall, which is referred to in correspondence of 1744 between the 2nd Duke of Richmond and the Irish impresario Owen MacSwinny, who had long been resident in Venice and was in 1746 to be instrumental in the Duke's employment of Canaletto, who arrived in London in that year. One must assume that Joli's work at Richmond House was seen by Philip Dormer Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield, the diplomat and politician who is best known to posterity for the letters he showered upon his natural son, Philip Stanhope. The earl was a man of the most refined taste. He took a close and indeed exacting interest in every aspect of the decoration of Chesterfield House, begun in 1746 to the design of the architect Isaac Ware: work on the foundations was well under way by the ensuing summer and at least some of the major rooms were finished by the end of March 1749.
Arguably the most exceptional room on the ground floor of Chesterfield House was the Ante Room, which at least by 1815 was known as the French Room. This name was due not to the five overdoors supplied by Joli, this pair of views of Rome and three views of Venice, but to the character of the boiseries into which these were intended to fit, which were indeed of French design, deriving, as Professor T.H. Lunsingh Scheurleer noted, from a design by Nicolas Pineau published in 1727 (see S. Medlam, letter, The Burlington Magazine, CXXXI, March 1989, p. 223). Chesterfield clearly knew that pictures would have been commissioned as overdoors for Pineau's scheme, in accordance with French practice. Joli's canvasses were removed at some stage prior to the occupation of the house by Michael Bass, 1st Lord Burton and carved decorative panels, visible in early photographs (ie. Russell, fig. 64), were substituted. After the demolition of Chesterfield House the boiseries were adapted for installation in an octagonal room at Whitburn Hall: since 1971 these have been in the Bowes Museum (see Medlam, loc. cit.).
For both his Roman views for Chesterfield House Joli recapitulated existing compositions and it may well be that his patron wished his overdoors to be of very readily identifiable subjects, in part perhaps to prepare the visitor for the collection of old masters that was displayed in the adjacent Italian Room. When he needed additional overdoors and an overmantel for two rooms on the first floor he turned to Canaletto (see Russell, loc. cit.), perhaps because Joli had already left London.