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 clientele. 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-18th 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 and 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' (cited by Arisi, see Literature, 1986, p. 215).
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 18th and early 19th century. Hubert Robert, who arrived in Rome in 1754 (the same year in which these paintings were executed), went on to propagate Panini’s style not only in Rome but in his native France.
St. Peter's Square was the square most often painted by vedutisti in Rome. Its impressive scale (it measures a colossal 240 metres in width), the grandeur of its architecture and its position within the Vatican combined to make it the most famous square in Europe. The obelisk, which can still be seen in situ in the centre of the square, was brought to Rome by Caligula in 37 A.D. and was moved by Pope Sixtus V to its current location in the summer of 1586. The two fountains were erected in the 17th century, in 1613 and 1677 respectively. Designs were provided for the Basilica by some of the greatest architects of the Renaissance: Leon Battista Alberti, Bernardo Rossellino, Bramante, Raphael, Giuliano da Sangallo, Baldassarre Peruzzi, Antonio da Sangallo the Younger and, most famously, Michelangelo. Further modifications were made in the 17th century by Carlo Maderno and Gian Lorenzo Bernini. The square, as it appears in Panini’s painting, had been remodelled following Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s designs in 1656-7 into a perfectly symmetrical space, framed by an elegant double colonnade, itself surmounted by statues based on Bernini’s designs.
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