The Pantheon is a remarkable building. It was commissioned by Marcus Agrippa during the reign of the Emperor Augustus, and was later rebuild by the Emperor Hadrian circa 126 AD. Originally a Roman temple, since the seventh century it has been used as a Catholic church, officially known as Santa Maria dei Martiri but in fact more commonly referred to as Santa Maria Rotonda or just the Pantheon. The coffered concrete dome remains to this day the largest unreinforced concrete dome in the world, and at its centre is an unusual opening, known as an oculus, through which light streams into the church, as seen here. The oculus was used with some frequency in Roman and Byzantine architecture; aside from allowing sunlight in it also meant rain could cool the interior during the summer months. Several Italian kings and queens are buried in the Pantheon, as well as the painters Raphael and Annibale Carracci.
Panini painted several other views of the interior of the Pantheon but all of them post-date the present work, and not all of them are signed and dated. The inclusion of the figure seen here peering in through the oculus in the roof introduces a note of humour. A signed version of similar size, with an identical vantage point and which shows the light streaming in through the roof at the same angle as in the present work is in a private collection in Milan.1 A horizontal treatment of the view, which cuts off the uppermost section of the ceiling, is taken from a very similar point as the previous work and is in a private collection in Rome; it is neither signed nor dated.2 A signed and dated view from 1734 today in a New York private collection differs from the present work as it omits the Corinthian columns of the foreground and is painted from almost directly in front of the entrance.3 A much larger canvas of a similar view as the present work and whose provenance was confused with the present picture by Arisi (see Literature), is in the Statens Museum for Kunst in Copenhagen.4 A broadly similar, signed and dated version from 1735 was sold, London, Sotheby's 16 March 1969, lot 84 (now in the Liechtenstein Museum, Vienna). Two further treatments of the views, the first in the National Gallery of Art (Kress Collection), the second in the Cleveland Museum, signed and dated 1747, both omit the Corinthian columns.5
Panini often based his figures on drawings he kept with him. In the present work, the figure standing in the middle of the church, wearing white with a black coat around his waist recurrs in the aforementioned Washington version, and is based on a drawing in the Kupferstichkabinett in Berlin (fig. 1).
1. See Arisi 1986, under Literature, p. 340, cat. no. 218, reproduced.
2. Ibid., p. 341, cat. no. 220, reproduced.
3. Ibid., p. 341, cat. no. 221, reproduced.
4. Ibid., p. 349, cat. no. 236, reproduced.
5. Ibid., p. 373, cat. no. 283, reproduced; and p. 419, cat. no. 374, reproduced.
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