Domenico Fossati was a renowned painter and architect, who specialized in decorations for festivals and theatrical scenery. He worked across the Veneto area and in Austria, and together with Jacopo Guarana and Giandomenico Tiepolo, decorated the Palazzo Contarini dal Zaffo in Venice.
The present work appears to have been executed as a stage set for a private theater. It would have been accompanied by a series of smaller designs which progressively opened to reveal the main set. All these elements were subsequently adapted to decorate a gallery in the Count di Pace's palazzo in Udine. The whole ensemble appears to have been dismantled at some point in the early 20th Century and the current whereabouts of the other canvases is not known.
The 18th Century saw an explosion of theater building in Italy: the Filarmonica, Verona, 1729; the Teatro Argentina, Rome, 1732; the first San Carlo, Naples, 1737; the Reggio, Turin, 1740; the Comunale, Bologna, 1763; the Fenice, Venice, 1772; and the Scala, Milan, 1778. Indeed nearly every palazzo featured its own private theater. As theater and opera moved from the public spaces of the city to interior private spaces, the design of stage sets reflected its original context.
Bernini referred to Rome as the 'gran teatro del mondo' and Fossati conceived this composition as a collage of monuments and statues of the Eternal City. On the sides are two palaces modelled on the Palazzo dei Senatori and the Palazzo dei Conservatori with an equestrian statue, reminiscent of the one of Marcus Aurelius, between them, as they appear in the Piazza del Campidoglio. The fountain of Neptune in the center seems to be based on a 1637 print by Claude Lorrain of a decoration for the festivities which took place in the Piazza di Spagna in honor of Ferdinand III. The statues of Castor and Pollux, known as the Dioscuri and set in the Piazza del Quirinale, stand on top of a colonnade. The facade of the Pantheon is flanked by the round apse of the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, and in the background one can see the Belvedere gardens.
In the courtyard of this miniature Rome, Fossati paints a street scene with children playing, gentlemen talking, dogs running and birds flying. However, to remind us of the artifice of the theater, at the sides, the Gods are observing: Jupiter is ready to strike with his thunderbolt, and Mercury, with his caduceus, to induce sleep.