This distinguished pair of pictures celebrates two of the main monuments of Panini's adopted city. Work on the new Basilica of St. Peter's, the grandest monument of renaissance and baroque Rome, was begun in 1506 to the design of Bramante. His Greek cross plan was modified by subsequent architects, most notably Michelangelo: the nave, from which Panini's viewpoint is taken, was designed in 1605 by Carlo Maderno and finished in 1614: its decoration was resolved over a much larger period, notably to the direction of Bernini: among eighteenth-century contributions were the waterstoops of 1722-5 set against the first piers. Later versions of the view would show some of the alterations made during the pontificate of Benedict XIV, elected in 1740, most obviously the monument of 1742 to Clementina Sobieska, de jure Queen of England.
If Saint Peter's was the greatest of the churches of Rome, its nearest rival in scale and importance was unquestionably the vast early Christian basilica of S. Paolo fuori le Mura, adapted by Constantine and enlarged successively by Valentinian, Theodosius and the latter's son, Honorius. The richly decorated interior was adorned with mosaics, murals by Pietro Cavallini and marble facings. The basilica was largely destroyed by fire in July 1823, and while the detailed copies of much of the original decoration are the most authoritative record of the lost murals, Panini's are the most compelling views of the interior of the basilica as a whole.
The view of the interior of Saint Peter's was one of Panini's most successful compositions. The prime original of larger format (150 x 225 cm., Paris, Louvre, Arisi, no. 200) was commissioned by Cardinal Melchior de Polignac in 1729 and is dated 1730. Changes in the figures attest to Panini's personal intervention in subsequent versions. One, of 1731 (St. Louis, City Art Museum, Arisi, no. 212) was probably painted for an English patron and was formerly at Grittleton: that dated 1734 at Zurich (Kunsthaus, Arisi, no. 217) was supplied to the 1st Duke of Kent for his house in St. James's Square. Another, formerly on loan at Cardiff (not recorded by Arisi), the pendant to which of S. Paolo fuori le Mura is dated 1735, was perhaps acquired by James, Lord Paisley, who was in Rome in 1739. Arisi implies a dating in the 1730s for two other variants, that in the National Gallery (Arisi, no. 280, which may well have been ordered by the hugenot, Richard Ducane (1681-1744) who was in Rome with his sons in 1733), which like those listed above is similar in scale to the Polignac picture, and the smaller canvas at Draguignan (Arisi, no. 281). The present picture, of more intimate scale, is dated 1741. It is in turn related to the version of similar size, dated 1746, from the Fitzwilliam collection (not recorded by Arisi). Later versions include those of 1750 and 1755 respectively at Detroit and Hanover (Arisi, nos. 408 and 450, the former of narrower format), and, if Arisi's chronology is correct, pictures in the Museo Correr, Venice, in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, the Hermitage, St. Petersburg and at Berlin (Arisi, nos. 447, 448, 449 and 473, the Metropolitan and Hermitage pictures corresponding closely in size with the Leeds example).
As Arisi notes there are numerous studies for individual figures in the Leeds St Peter's among the major group of drawings in the Kupferstichkabinett at Berlin: these include those for the Cardinal (no. 17549), two of the prelates in attendance on him (nos. 17531 and 17533), the kneeling man in the middle distance on the left (no. 17535), the kneeling woman (no. 17537) and the prelate in the centre in the middle distance (no. 17583): a further drawing for the prominent kneeling woman on the left is in the album in the British Museum (f. 26).
The interior of S. Paolo fuori le Mura is a subject which Panini treated less frequently. The earliest known picture is that of 1735 formerly on loan at Cardiff, which is paired with an interior of St. Peter's (see above) and was perhaps obtained by James, Lord Paisley. This is of the larger format. The present picture is taken from the same viewpoint but marginally heightened, showing more of the mosaics on the side walls; and, as with the pendant composition, Panini supplied different groups of figures. A similar picture of comparable size dated 1746, also balanced by a pendant of St. Peter's, was in the Fitzwilliam collection. The, apparently later, signed picture, said to be from the Yussopoff Palace at St. Petersburg (Moscow, Pushkin Museum, Arisi, no. 409) has a pendant of the interior of S. Giovanni Laterano (Arisi, no. 408): a further variant, of unrecorded dimensions, was in a Roman private collection (Arisi, no. 410, dated circa 1750). None of these canvasses would seem to be identifiable with that recorded, with a pendant interior of St. Peter's, in the inventory of Panini's most acquisitive Roman patron, Cardinal Valenti Gonzaga.
Thomas Osborne, 4th Duke of Leeds (1713-1789), succeeded his father in 1731, inheriting Hornby Castle in Yorkshire and much of the great fortune which had been settled on the 3rd Duke by his grandfather, Thomas Osborne, the 1st Duke, who as Earl of Danby had been a minister to King Charles II. The 4th Duke, who was educated at Westminster and Christ Church, Oxford, went on the Grand Tour with his cousin, Robert Hay (1711-1776), subsequently Archbishop of York. They were in Venice in March and April 1734, at Padua on 1st May, at Vicenza in June, at Florence in October and had left Rome by 18 December.
Like his Yorkshire neighbour, Henry Howard, 4th Earl of Carlisle and an older contemporary who moved in similar circles, Henry de Grey, 1st Duke of Kent, the Duke of Leeds patronised both Panini and Canaletto. These two canvasses were no doubt ordered to complement a series of six by Canaletto, the views of Piazza San Marco in the Fogg Art Museum and at Detroit (Constable, nos. 14 and 24), the outsize Molo and its pendant of the Riva degli Schiavoni (Constable, nos. 95 and 113) and the celebrated pair of the same format, the Bucintoro at the Molo (inv. no. 4453) and the Regatta on the Grand Canal (inv. no. 4454) in the National Gallery (Constable, nos. 333 and 350) (Figs. 1 and 2) the latter datable to the doganate of Alvise Pisani (January 1735-1741). The Duke presumably placed his order, doubtless through the Consul Smith - who owned earlier versions of both the Bucintoro and the Regatta - during, or soon after, his visit to Venice. The Paninis were evidently ordered later, hypothetically in 1740, the year of the Duke's marriage to Mary, daughter of Francis, 2nd Earl of Godolphin by Henrietta, Duchess of Marlborough, jure sua: her first cousin was married to Anne, daughter of John, 2nd Earl Fitzwilliam and sister of William, 3rd Earl Fitzwilliam, who owned the similar pair of views of St. Peter's and Saint Paul's of 1746 which are mentioned above and a significant series by Canaletto which, with two Zucccarellis were framed en suite after their arrival in England. It seems probable that the Leeds pictures led to the order for the Fitzwilliam pair.