Lot 47
  • 47

Giovanni Paolo Panini

400,000 - 600,000 USD
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  • Giovanni Paolo Panini
  • Capriccio of Roman Monuments with the Colosseum and Arch of Constantine
  • signed and dated lower right:  I.P. PANINI / ROMÆ . 1743
  • oil on canvas


Arthur Munro-Ferguson, Esq.;
By whom sold, London, Christie's, 4 July 1986, lot 64;
Where acquired by Jan Mitchell.


The following condition report has been provided by Simon Parkes of Simon Parkes Art Conservation, Inc. 502 East 74th St. New York, NY 212-734-3920, simonparkes@msn.com , an independent restorer who is not an employee of Sotheby's. The condition of this painting is particularly good. The canvas has an old Italian glue lining and the paint layer itself is still very nicely supported although the vertical stretcher mark in the center is visible, particularly in the sky. So often pictures of this period are abraded or damaged in other ways, and luckily this picture has not suffered at all. All of the details in the architecture, the inscription on top of the Arch of Constantine and all of the details in the Colosseum and the figures are beautifully preserved. It is tempting to leave the picture in its current state however, a fresher lining would allow the surface to be less uneven and if the paint layer were to be cleaned, more brightness and depth would be acquired.
"This lot is offered for sale subject to Sotheby's Conditions of Business, which are available on request and printed in Sotheby's sale catalogues. The independent reports contained in this document are provided for prospective bidders' information only and without warranty by Sotheby's or the Seller."

Catalogue Note

This beautiful and previously unpublished canvas by Panini represents a fresh approach to one of the artist's favorite subjects:  a capriccio view of the Colosseum and Arch of Constantine.   Although based on a prototype from 1711 by Gaspare Vanvitelli, in his many versions of the composition, Panini adapts his predecessor's more topographical view into a series of picturesque and eulogistic compilations of the architectural wonders of Ancient Rome.1

There are over twenty recorded versions of this composition in Panini's oeuvre.2  The first of these, signed and dated I.P.P.1734 (formerly in the collection of the Earl of Dunraven, Limerick), conforms closely to Vanvitelli's prototype, with the Colosseum and the Arch displayed with more or less topographical fidelity from a northern vantage point along the slopes of the Esquiline hill.   Although this basic viewpoint remains much the same throughout the versions, in the present painting Panini has rotated the Colosseum on its axis, so that rather than seeing the intact side of the facade, the viewer is confronted with something closer to an architectural cross-section, revealing the facade, interior walls and substructure.  The veduta sensibility displayed in the 1734 canvas quickly gave way to assemblage, with various monuments and architectural fragments drawn from all over Rome arranged together and layered over the basic view of the Colosseum and Arch.  Not only did this lead to interesting architectural juxtapositions, but it also appealed to the increasing number of Grand Tourists who patronized Panini and who wanted to commemorate their trips with painted images of the most impressive ruins of Ancient Rome seen during their journeys. 

In the present work, for example, Panini has framed the right foreground of his composition with the three soaring columns and entablature of the Temple of Castor and Pollux, located in reality in the Forum Romanum.  Panini inserted these columns into several versions of this composition (see F. Arisi, op. cit. nos. 225, 226, 233) -- as well as many of his other capricci views -- because their height and verticality lent a sense of scale and grandeur to the overall views.  Below the columns, one of the Medici Lions stands majestically among various pieces of fallen masonry.  To the left is the Medici Vase, located at the Villa Medici until 1780.  It is possible that this is the first version of the Colosseum and Arch of Constantine to incorporate the vase, as none of the earlier versions mentioned above include it and the two versions that come after it chronologically do (see Arisi, op. cit., nos. 375, 377).  In the shadow of the Vase, figures gather water from an ancient granite basin that was discovered in the Forum and installed there as a fountain by Giacomo della Porta in 1593.  The columnar ruin in the center foreground is the Meta Sudans, an antique fountain actually located in front of the Arch of Constantine.  Panini has altered the spatial relationship between the fountain and arch, shifting it to the left so that it falls on the center line of his composition, thus emphasizing the symmetry of the features on either side. 

There is a freshness and vitality to the present composition, which is due in large part to its uniqueness from the other versions of the Colosseum and Arch of Constantine compositions.  In addition to the singular view into the interior structure of the Colosseum, there is a tension between old and new, ancient and modern, that animates the surface of the composition.  Panini has cleverly incorporated a glimpse of contemporary Rome into his vista:  just to the left of the Arch of Constantine, the campanile of San Clemente can be seen rising above small, red-roofed buildings.  This inclusion of Rome's modern skyline in a capricci of the city's ancient monuments seems to be unique in Panini's oeuvre.  Additionally, the Medici Lion that Panini has included among the ancient ruins is actually a modern statue.  Of the two Medici Lions, only one was antique:  in 1594, the family commissioned Flaminio Vacca to carve a second, in mirror image, to match it.   The version here, with its left paw raised and resting on the orb, is Vacca's modern copy.  It appears in no other recorded version of this composition, and in fact, seems only to reappear in Panini's oeuvre in the three versions of the Roma Moderna composition.3  These playful allusions to modernity render this a unique version of one of Panini's most iconic compositions.

We are grateful to Dr. David Marshall for his assistance in the cataloguing of the present lot and for endorsing the attribution to Panini on the basis of photographs.

1.  For Vanvitelli's composition, see L. Laureati's entry in, C. Strinati et. al., Gaspare Vanvitelli e le origini del vedutismo, exhibition catalogue, Rome and Venice, 2002, pp. 98-99, no. 13.
2.  See F. Arisi, Gian Paolo Panini e i fasti della Roma del'700, Rome 1986, nos. 224, 225, 226, 230, 231, 233, 240, 242, 285, 288, 292, 299, 301, 316, 375, 377, 390, 426, 451, 453, 464, 465, 503.
3.  Ibid., nos. 471 (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston), 475 (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), and 500 (Musée du Louvre, Paris).