Panini was the foremost painter of vedute in Rome during the 18th century. He worked exclusively in the Eternal City, moving there from his birthplace in Piacenza in 1711, and began studying with Bernardino Luti and Andrea Locatelli. By 1719 he had become a member of the Accademia di San Luca - which he was to head in 1754 - and in 1722 he received his first major commission for a set of frescoes in the Palazzo Quirinale for Pope Innocent XIII. Other important patrons in Rome included the Odescalchi, Cardinal Polignac (the French Ambassador to the Holy See), and Abbé de Canillac. Panini differed from other contemporary painters in his picturesque approach to topography, which contrasted with the more precise views of other fellow vedutisti such as Bellotto and Vanvitelli. His work was to influence numerous artists, some of whom trained in his studio, such as Giovanni Niccolò Servandoni (for whom, see lot 58) and Hubert Robert, perhaps the best known among them. The fact that Panini became a member of the Academié de France in Rome in 1732 and taught there attests to the extent of his influence at this early date.
The Egyptian obelisk (presently standing in the center of the Piazza del Popolo, Rome), stands in this capriccio here between the Temple of Fortuna Virilis and the Temple of Hadrian, with the Basilica of Maxentius and the Colisseum in the background. This used to be named after the Emperor Constantine and it is perhaps for this reason that Panini included the magnificent porphyry sarcophagus of Constantine's daughter Constanza, now in the Vatican.