Anonymous sale ('The Property of a Lady'), London, Sotheby's, 26 March 1969, lot 37, for £27,000, to Speelman;
With Edward Speelman, London;
Anonymous sale ('The Property of a Private Collector'), New York, Christie's, 12 January 1994, lot 121;
Where acquired by the present collector.
G. Delogu, 'Pitture Italiane del ’600 e del ’700 a Vienna', L'Arte, vol. XL, July 1937, p. 231, fig. 6;
G. Delogu, 'Novità panniniane', Strenna Piacentina, XVI, 1938, p. 142;
G. Briganti, N. di Carpegna et al., Il Settecento a Roma, exhibition catalogue, 19 March – 31 May 1959, p. 164, under no. 410;
F. Arisi, Gian Paolo Panini, Piacenza 1961, p. 202, no. 224, reproduced fig. 279;
The Burlington Magazine, vol. CXI, no. 729, March 1969, p. vi, advertisement;
Art at Auction: The Year at Sotheby's & Parke-Bernet 1968–1969, London 1969, p. 77, reproduced in colour;
F. Arisi, Gian Paolo Panini e i fasti della Roma del ’700, Rome 1986, p. 442, no. 425, reproduced;
Christie's Review of the Season 1994, London 1995, p. 22, reproduced in colour.
The view is taken from the Arch of Constantine looking northwards to the Capitoline Hill. The painting shows from left to right the corner of the façade of Santa Maria Liberatrice (demolished in 1899); immediately beyond it is the Temple of Castor and Pollux, its ruins formed of three columns surmounted by a section of architrave; further away, to the left of the tree-lined avenue, is the Fountain of Juturna, where horses and riders gather to drink; in the background, at the foot of the Capitoline Hill stand the ruins of the Temple of Saturn. The Arch of Septimius Severus punctuates the centre of the composition. Here it meets the Via Sacra, the main street of ancient Rome, which recedes to this point, accentuating the painting’s emphatic perspectival axis. Through the arch, steps lead to the Capitol. There, the tower of the Palazzo Senatorio, by far the tallest landmark on the skyline, stands out from the mass of buildings. The Piazza del Campidoglio is obscured from view but adjacent to it is the Basilica of Santa Maria in Aracoeli, its pinkish walls strongly lit by the afternoon sun; just visible from the back is the silhouette of its stark façade. To the right of the Arch of Septimius Severus, protruding above the trees, is the dome of the Church of SS. Luca e Martina. On the far right of the painting Panini has depicted the imposing vaulted structure of the Basilica of Maxentius and Constantine.
Painted in his sixtieth year, the View of the Forum shows the artist at the height of his powers, still manifestly reinventing himself in his work. From about 1725 to 1750 Panini had painted numerous other views of the Forum but taken from the Clivus Capitolinus – the road that climbs up to the Capitol – looking south towards the Arch of Titus, sometimes paired with a view of the Colosseum. Among the finest examples are a pair of vedute signed and dated 1735 at the Detroit Institute of Arts,1 and a more expansive pair of 1749 – one a View of the Forum, the other a View of Rome from Monte Mario – formerly at Sanssouci and now at the Gemäldegalerie, Berlin.2 By contrast, Panini’s View of the Forum is smaller in format and has a freshness of touch and atmospheric rendering that has been likened to the early work of Corot (1796–1875), in particular to his outdoor painting in Italy, which shares a similar emphasis on tonal harmonies enhanced by the warm light of Rome.
The View of the Forum is a very well preserved example of Panini’s contemporary Roman cityscapes, which along with his imaginary views were in great demand. Here Panini presents us with a careful transcription of a topographically accurate scene, a rarer genre in his work than the artificial constructs of his capricci. The impression that the viewer is witnessing a real scene is heightened by the arrangement of figures dispersed across the Forum, from stylishly-dressed aristocrats, to barefooted bystanders; people on horseback and in their carriage or cart; pairs of monks and priests; and even a beggar receiving alms. The lighting too, as well as the setting, is carefully observed. The sunlit expanse of the Basilica, for instance, stands in sharp contrast to the building opposite, at the far left, which, cast in deep shadow, enhances the sense of spatial recession and the strong contrasts of light and shade within the composition.
The popularity of such view paintings relied on the artist’s skill in combining a plethora of architectural elements – some ruined, some intact – within a picturesque setting. The final result was both a souvenir of a prime cultural destination – Rome – and a subtle manipulation of the classical past.
Panini was the pre-eminent painter of vedute in Rome during the second quarter of the 18th century until his death in 1765. Though born in Piacenza, where he is thought to have trained with the architectural painter Bibiena, Panini moved to Rome in 1711 and remained there for the rest of his life. He joined the Congregazione dei Virtuosi al Pantheon in 1718, aged seventeen, and shortly afterwards became a member of the Accademia di San Luca, of which he was elected principe in 1754. During the first two decades of the 18th century Panini worked almost exclusively for the Roman nobility; the Patrizi amongst them, for whom he decorated a villa outside Porta Pia; and the Spinola, for whom he decorated an apartment at the Quirinale. Panini’s main output, however, consisted primarily of easel paintings in which he accurately depicted the various splendours of ancient and modern Rome. His acceptance into the Académie de France à Rome in 1732 not only attests to the extent of his influence already at that date, but more importantly it marks the beginning of a period in which he was to receive commissions from an increasingly international clientèle. From the 1730s, royal and aristocratic patrons from France, Spain and England commissioned and acquired works by Panini; amongst them Philip V of Spain, who commissioned a painting from the artist in 1735, and three years later Panini executed a set of five paintings for Marble Hill House in Richmond. Many of his international commissions were not merely topographical reminders of places visited by the tourists on the Grand Tour, but they often assumed historical significance, commemorating important events or visits to Rome on behalf of dignitaries and royal figures. By the mid-eighteenth century Panini was at the head of an extensive workshop which he had set up to meet the ever-increasing demand for his paintings. As an epistolary exchange from 1752 records, Panini only worked on commission by this date. A letter concerning the King of Sardinia’s wish to acquire paintings by the artist records that he barely had the time to meet the demand for commissions he received both from Rome and abroad: ‘ha appena il tempo di soddisfare alle commissioni che gli vengono date e dai paesi e qui in Roma da molti e dal Signor Cardinal Segretano di Stato specialmente, che lo protegge’.3
Panini’s success was largely due to the fact that he differed from other contemporary painters in his picturesque approach to painting these familiar sites. Though topographically accurate, Panini’s views tend to appear more theatrical than the more precise views of other vedutisti such as Bellotto or Vanvitelli, and the importance that he places on the numerous figures that populate his scenes and the unusual viewpoints he adopts serve to underline this more dramatic approach to view painting. Panini’s vedute had a lasting influence on painters of the second half of the eighteenth and early nineteenth century. Hubert Robert, who arrived in Rome in 1754, went on to propagate Panini’s style not only in Rome but also in his native France.
1. Inv. nos 47.93 and 47.94; both oil on canvas, 73.5 x 135 cm. and 74.2 x 134.6 cm. respectively; reproduced in Arisi 1986, p. 346, nos 229 and 230.
2. GK Nr 5666 and GK Nr 5671; both oil on canvas, 101.5 x 168 cm. and 101 x 168 cm. respectively; reproduced in Arisi 1986, p. 428, nos 395 and 396.
3. Arisi 1986, p. 215.
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