GIOVANNI PAOLO PANNI (Piacenza 1691-1765 Rome)

Giovanni Paolo Panini was the most admired of the Roman vedutisti (view-painters) and his views of ancient and modern Rome inspired foreign visitors to the city, especially those travelling around Italy on the Grand Tour. His paintings typically portrayed the city’s most popular sites, though these monuments were often represented in imaginary surroundings and arranged in fantastical ways. Born in Piacenza, he began his training under Giuseppe Natali (1652-1722) and Andrea Galluzzi (1689-1735), subsequently working with the stage designer Francesco Galli-Bibiena (1659-1739). In 1711 Panini moved to Rome, where he studied under Benedetto Luti (1666-1724) until 1718, reaching considerable fame as a painter of decorative frescoes. In 1719 he became a member of the Accademia di San Luca and the Congregazione dei Virtuosi al Pantheon, and then established close ties with the members of the Roman French Academy, to which he was admitted in 1732. In 1724 the artist married Caterina Gosset, the sister-in-law of Nicolas Vleughels, the director of the Académie Française à Rome. After teaching perspective there, he himself was received as a member of the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture in Paris; an honour rarely bestowed upon Roman artists. Panini’s success persisted throughout the second and third quarter of the 18th century, until his death in 1765, as he met the growing demand for his vedute with an extensive workshop, to which Hubert Robert and Panini’s own son Francesco also belonged.

This brightly coloured harbour scene portrays an imaginary Mediterranean seaport bustling with activity. At first glance, the sweeping architecture that fills the left side of the composition appears to be an invention - Panini was a practicing architect who, two years after completing this painting, would serve on the panel of judges for the design competition for the façade of San Giovanni in Laterano and in 1734 would design the chapel of Santa Teresa in the Roman Church of Santa Maria della Scala. For the architecture in this painting, Panini took inspiration from one of Rome’s most famous monuments: Gianlorenzo Bernini’s monumental Colonnade for St. Peter’s. Indeed, the majestic, sweeping rows of towering, Doric columns terminating in classical temple façades and surmounted by a balustrade with statuary is nearly identical to Bernini’s Baroque architectural masterpiece. As such, this painting is best understood as an early foray into a genre that Panini began to develop at the beginning of the 1730s, the capriccios of Roman monuments grouped together into imaginary landscapes, which were so avidly sought-after by visitors to Rome wishing to preserve the memory of their Grand Tour. Panini’s fascination with French painting from previous generations is reflected in his lyrical treatment of light, recalling the works of Claude Lorrain, as well as in his elegant figures who fill the foreground in a variety of poses, many of which recall the works of Antoine Watteau.

As David Marshall has observed, the present painting is one of the earliest known compositions of which Panini produced multiple versions. The artist’s first treatment of this scene appears to be the smaller version (85 x 111 cm.), signed with the artist’s initials and dated 'I.P.P., 1730’, which was offered at Sotheby’s, London, 1 November 1978, lot 47 (see F. Arisi, Gian Paolo Panini e I fasti della Roma del ‘700, Rome, 1986, p. 332, no. 202). The ex-Sotheby’s painting appears from the catalogue illustration to be slightly cropped in relation to this  version: absent are the grassy area in the foreground and the final column and entablature at far left. While nearly all of the figures occupy identical positions in both paintings, Panini added three extra ships along the horizon in the version here examined, and also repositioned the rightmost group of figures to accommodate the wider field of view. The elevated quality of the present painting suggests that it was Panini himself who expanded the composition, prominently signing his work to ensure his patron recognized its autograph status. 

A coastal scene

Medium: Oil on canvas, 103.5 x 128.9 cm
Signed I.P. Panini 1730 (on the column fragment, lower left)

With David M. Koetser, New York, where acquired in 1959 by the Seattle Art Museum

Art Quarterly, no. 22, Autumn 1959, p. 277, fig. p. 279;
Seattle Art Museum Guild, Engagement Book, 1962;
G. Sestieri, Il capriccio architettonico in Italia nel secolo XVII e XVIII, Rome 2015, p. 85, cat. 147.1.

Comparative Literature
F. Arisi, Gian Paolo Panini e i fasti della Roma del ‘700, 2a ed. review, Rome 1986.

Washington, D.C., Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, 
Art for collectors: an exhibit under the auspices of the Reserve Board Club, First Floor, Board Building, 25 September 1977-17 November 1978.

David Marshall, private communication, November 2014.