Historical Portraits Picture Archive

A Roman Capriccio 

Giovanni Paolo Panini and studio (1691-1765)

A Roman Capriccio, Giovanni Paolo Panini and studio
Oil and Canvas
17th Century
45 2/8 x 47 2/8 inches, 115cm x 120cm
Probably commissioned by Richard Grenville, 2nd Earl Temple; At Stowe House until sold by the 1st Duke of Buckingham and Chandos, Christie’s 29th & 30th November, 1839, lot 104, for £16.5; With Spink & Son Ltd by 1920; sold by the following year to Percy Morley Horder FRIBA (1870-1944); by whom sold in May 1936; acquired then or shortly afterwards by Capt. Thomas Renshaw; thence by descent.
Norwich, Castle Museum, Eighteenth Century Italy and the Grand Tour, 23 May-27 July 1958, No 40.
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This picture is a fascinating visual record of both ancient Rome and the phenomenon of the eighteenth-century Grand Tour. Giovanni Paolo Panini was a celebrated Italian artist who probably painted more views of Roman ruins than any other, and was in great demand for his scenes of ancient Rome, especially from English aristocratic tourists for whom Classical Rome was the subject of their greatest artistic passion, and the inspiration for many of their country houses. As in this example, Panini often composed large capriccios of invented views tailored to suit the interests of his patrons.

This scene shows a combination of the most famous sites in Rome. At the lower left-hand side here we see the Sarcophagus of Constantia, the daughter of the (first Christian) Emperor Constantine, which is now in the Vatican Museum. Immediately next to the Sarcophagus we see a version of Lysippos’ statue of the weary Hercules, probably the marble I, now in Naples. The columned façade behind Hercules is probably an idealized description of the Portico of the Temple of Antoninus and Faustina, while in the left-hand background we obviously see the Colosseum. In the distance to the right is the Pyramid of Cestius, the tomb of the Roman magistrate Gaius Cestius. Beside the Pyramid we see the Temple of Portunus, or as it was called in the 18th Century the Temple of Fortuna Virilis. Immediately next to the Temple is the Arch of Constantine, Rome’s most famous triumphal arch. Finally, we see Trajan’s column in the foreground to the right, commemorating that Emperor’s victories in the Dacian Wars.

This picture formerly hung at Stowe House in Buckinghamshire. It was almost certainly commissioned by Richard Grenville, 2nd Earl Temple, when on his Grand Tour of Europe between 1728 and 1732. It is probably not too fanciful to imagine some sort of connection between Temple’s surname and some of the buildings in the composition, and there are of course obvious similarities with the recreated neo-classical buildings in the gardens at Stowe. The picture was recorded at Stowe in a description of the house when it belonged to the 2nd Earl, published by Seeley and Hodgkinson in 1773. That publication lists two pictures as by Panini, one in the dining room, ‘over the chimney’, and another in the drawing room, again ‘over the chimney’. The slightly square format of the picture here must suggest that it was specifically commissioned to go above a fireplace.

After the Grenville family fortunes were dramatically reduced by George, 1st Marquess of Buckingham, the picture left Stowe at the sale of the Duke of Buckingham and Chandos’ at Christie’s, on 29th & 30th November 1839. There it was sold for £16.5 (lot 104), and also as by ‘Pannini’, It was titled ‘The Coloseum [sic.], portico of Faustina, and other Roman ruins, with sculpture and figures; a beautiful composition (companion to lot 105)’. Lot 105 was titled, ‘Classical ruins, with a philosopher addressing some soldiers and females; the figures very elegant’. Both these pictures were later with Spink and Son by 1920, and were then sold to Percy Morley Horder. By 1936 the present picture was in the possession of Capt. Thomas Renshaw.
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