Giovanni Paolo Panini

Giovanni Paolo Panini

Giovanni Paolo Panini, who spent most of his career in Rome, was one of the outstanding view painters of the eighteenth century. His work epitomises the Papal city in the same way that Canaletto’s views conjure up eighteenth century Venice; both painters benefited from the patronage of aristocratic Grand Tourists.

Panini trained in Piacenza with the quadraturisti Giuseppe Natali (1661-1722) and Andrea Galluzzi (fl.1716-1743) and the stage designer Francesco Galli-Bibiena. In 1711 he went to Rome to study figure drawing, working with Benedetto Luti, a painter of small-scale religious and secular subjects. He also studied with the landscape painter Andrea Locatelli. Panini worked on the decoration of Roman palaces; his first documented commission (1719-25) is for frescoes of festoons and putti for the Villa Patrizi beyond the Porta Pia (destroyed 1911).

In 1718 Panini became a member of the Congregazione dei Virtuosi al Pantheon. The following year he was nominated to the Accademia di S Luca, where he taught perspective drawing and in 1754 served as principal. To celebrate his entry into the Accademia he painted Alexander visiting the tomb of Achilles, 1719 (Galleria Accademia Nazionale S Luca, Rome). In 1722 Panini was commissioned by Pope Innocent XIII to decorate the mezzanine apartment of the Palazzo Quirinale. His most complete surviving fresco cycle is that for the Villa Montalto Grazioli in Frascati, commissioned by Baldassare Erba Odescalchi and dating from the 1720s and 30s.

From 1716-17 Panini began to paint vedute. He was influenced by Gaspar van Wittel’s precise rendering of townscapes, Salvator Rosa’s dashing figures and Giovanni Ghisolfi’s capricci. Panini’s architectural capricci often include historical or mythological themes, such as Alexander cutting the Gordian knot (Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore, MD). Occasionally he included religious scenes, as in the four canvases commissioned by Philip V of Spain to decorate the palace of S Ildefonso at La Granja. Panini’s first known vedute reale, views of Castello di Rivoli (Castello, Racconigi and Museo Civica d’Arte Antiqua, Turin) were commissioned in 1723. However, his fame lies in his views of Rome, both the monuments of antiquity and the splendid modern buildings, enlivened with groups of graceful figures. Panini frequently depicted festivals, such as the Preparations in Piazza Navona to celebrate the birth of the Dauphin, 1729 (Louvre, Paris).

Around 1745 Panini began to paint portraits. He also made paintings of real or imaginary gallery interiors, a genre popularised by seventeenth century Flemish painters. Among these is The gallery of Cardinal Silvio Valenti Gonzaga, 1749 (Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, CT). Panini’s last signed painting is The Colosseum, 1764 (Sternberg Palace, National Gallery, Prague), in which the colours and brushwork are lighter and the forms less distinct than in his earlier work.

As a stage designer, Panini in 1735 he worked with the architect Ferdinando Fuga on the decorations for the funeral of Maria Clementina Sobiesky. He also worked as an architect, designing the chapel of S Teresa (inaugurated 1745) in S Maria della Scala, Rome. Panini was a highly influential vedute painter; among his pupils were Hubert Robert (in Rome from 1754) and his son Francesco Panini (b.1738). Panini died in Rome in 1765.

The work of Giovanni Paolo Panini is represented in the Palazzo Quirinale, Rome; the Gemäldegalerie, Berlin; the Louvre, Paris; the Walters Art Galery, Baltimore, MD; the Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, CT; the Detroit Institute of Arts; the Toronto Art Gallery; the Sternberg Palace, National Gallery, Prague and the Pushkin Museum, Moscow.