During the 17th and 18th centuries the colonies of French, German and English artists and scholars in Rome were growing more and more numerous. Having studied in Paris for three years, Hackert arrived in Rome in December 1768. He met Goethe on the latter’s arrival in Rome in 1787 and corresponded with him regularly up until his death; Goethe later published Hackert’s biography in 1811. The artist remained in Rome for almost twenty years, until his engagement at the Neapolitan court of Ferdinand IV.
Hackert quickly established himself as one of the most successful German landscape painters working in Rome at this time. He benefitted from numerous introductions to Roman noble families, through fellow artists such as Angelica Kauffman, many of whom had estates in the Roman campagna. He seems to have been a guest of the Patrizi family at their Villa, north of Rome, near the Porta Pia, at least twice, firstly in 1779 and again in 1781. Following his usual practice, Hackert made highly accurate and detailed drawings on site, four of which survive (C. Nordhoff and H. Reimer, op. cit., p. 310-11, nos. 756, 757, 768 and 769). Three years later he used one of these drawings, which captures the church of Santa Maria Maggiore, the fourteen-metre-high marble column of the Virgin, formerly in the Basilica of Maxentius and parts of the middle-ground landscape (see fig. 1), when working on the present painting. No other paintings of this precise view are recorded. Hackert has extended the view further to the east, to incorporate the Basilica of San Giovanni and the Lateran Palace. Commissioned by Cardinal Giovanni Battista Patrizi in 1717, Villa Patrizi is believed to have been designed by Sebastiano Cipriani. Like other villas in the surrounding area, it was affected by the expansion of the city after the 1870 annexation of Rome by the Kingdom of Italy and was eventually pulled down in 1911 to make room for the Ministry of Transportation and the headquarters of the Italian Railway, as well as several embassies.