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Piacenza 1691–1765 Rome

Giovanni Paolo Panini (also spelt ‘Pannini’) was the foremost vedutista in eighteenth-century Rome. Throughout his life, he displayed great artistic versality, producing successful architectural plans, frescoes and even fireworks. It was his easel paintings, however, that procured him the greatest fame. He produced vedute – landscapes and city views ­– of the Eternal City for the local nobility as well as wealthy Grand Tourists seeking souvenirs. Panini’s fame coincided with a broader interest in the marvels of classical Rome and which was paralleled by the vogue for Piranesi’s engravings of Roman sights. Sometimes described as ‘furnishing pictures’, paintings by Panini, were often conceived of as pairs and were integral to the decoration of the new neo-classical houses being built in eighteenth-century England.

As part of his training in theatre design, Panini learnt perspectival and architectural drawing in Piacenza before moving to Rome in 1711, at the age of twenty. Under the tutelage of Benedetto Luti (1666–1724) and Andrea Locatelli (1695–1741) he discovered figure drawing, landscape painting and fresco decoration. Panini achieved an early success thanks to his frescoes made for Rome’s houses and palazzi, such as Villa Patrizi (1719/25) (now the Italian Ministry of Transportation). In 1718 he was granted membership to the prestigious Congregazione dei Virtuosi al Pantheon, which has included artists of the caliber of Borromini (1599–1667) and Canova (1757–1822). Shortly afterwards, he received a commission from the Holy See to decorate the chambers of Pope Innocent XIII at the Palazzo Quirinale (1722).

His fame was cemented with his focus on the production of Roman vedute and capricci from the 1730s, peopled by figures inspired by artists like Salvator Rosa. But like his contemporary, Canaletto, in Venice, Panini was profoundly influenced by the early views of Rome painted by Gaspar van Wittel, known as Vanvitelli (1653–1738). Many of Panini’s views, such as those of the Piazza del Popolo, are directly based on compositions by Vanvitelli. Inspired by Rome’s monuments, he painted both vedute reali and capricci. The first were topographically accurate portrayals of the city such as View of the Roman Forum (1735). Capricci on the other hand were architectural fantasies based on whimsical mixtures of real monuments and sculptures such as A Capriccio of Roman Ruins with the Pantheon (ca. 1755). His prolific practice also included documentations of historic occasions, mythological scenes in a Roman setting and portrayals of Rome’s high society. His famed Modern Rome and Ancient Rome (1756/57/58) are a testament to Panini’s ingenuity in presenting Rome’s sights in innovative ways. Based on the Dutch gallery genre, Panini depicts the city’s monuments as paintings in an imaginary museum-like building. He continued his career in Rome as the head of a workshop, which included the painter Hubert Robert (1733–1808), and his son Francesco Panini (1745–1812).


Top Auction Results for Giovanni Paolo Panini

Rome, the Pantheon, a View of the Interior Towards the Piazza Della Rotonda
Sold for $5,317,000 
New York, Sotheby’s, 29 January 2015, Master Paintings: Part I, lot 91

Interior of Saint Peter's, Rome, looking west towards the tomb of Saint Peter, with numerous worshippers and other figures in the nave
Sold for £2,357,000 ($4,373,376) 
London, Christie’s, 7 July 2004, Old Master Pictures, lot 106

A view of St. Peter's Basilica and St. Peter's Square with a procession and figures promenading (+ A view of the Piazza and Palazzo del Quirinale with a procession and other figures; pair)
Sold for £2,248,000 ($3,949,402)
London, Sotheby’s, 7 July 2005, Old Master Paintings (Evening Sale), lot 53


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