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Thursday, April 9, 2015

Giovanni Paolo Panini

Piazza Navona Flooded, 1756, Giovanni Paolo Panini         
Interior of the Pantheon, 1734,
Giovanni Paolo Panini
A couple years ago, on a hot day in May, I was part of a tour group trekking across the city of Rome visiting such must-see landmarks as the Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps, the Pantheon (left), and St. Peter's Square. Along the way we stopped for an hour or so to rest our weary feet amid the Baroque splendors of a beautiful public square (pizza in Italian) called the Piazza Navona. Crowning the elongated piazza is the grandly Baroque Church of Sant'Agnese in Agony (below as seen today; on the left in the painting above). I've since read that each weekend in August during the 1650s and 60s they used to flood the square in order to let the populace cool off in water roughly a foot deep. Gee, I sure wish they'd done that while I was there. The square is blessed by three impressive fountains, the most famous of which is Bernini's Four Rivers Fountain in the center of the Piazza. It was tempting, but I think the local authorities today rather frown on tourist cooling off in its inviting, sparkling waters. However, the 18th-century Italian painter, Giovanni Paolo Panini, gives us some idea of what it must have been like to enjoy a refreshing wading pool on a hot summer day in the middle of Rome (above).
Copyright, Jim Lane
Sant'Agnese in Agone, Piazza Navona, 2013
Giovanni Paolo Panini, 1736,
Louis Gabriel Blanchet
Although I've yet to make it to Paris, London, and Istanbul, nowhere else in Europe do you find the acute juxtaposition of the ancient and the modern than in Rome. The Piazza Navona is probably the most obvious example, in that it dates back originally to the Stadium of Domitian which occupied the site in the 1st-century AD. It's been a public square since around 1500. Today it's a stylish location for small shops, sidewalk cafes, and artists displaying their wares beneath the broiling son. I wouldn't be surprised if, during the 1700s, Giovanni Panini might have been one of them. Panini, born in 1691, specialized in what were called then "veduta" (views) of the city, both ancient and modern (as of the early 1700s, that is). Sometimes they were a mixture of both as seen in his Piazza Navona Flooded (top) from 1756 (a century after they ceased the practice). His 1734 Interior of the Pantheon (above, left), is probably his most impressive and most famous work. The demands of rendering a round room, (with a dome, no less) on the flat surface of a canvas must have been quite challenging.
Modern Rome Gallery, 1759, Giovanni Paolo Panini
Having said that, a great number of Panini's Baroque interiors must have been quite challenging. Take a look at Modern Rome Gallery (above) from the 1750s. The painting is a total fantasy. I rather doubt there was ever an art gallery in Rome, (or anywhere else, for that matter) then, or now, that was quite so grand; and any such interior as depicted by Panini would still have been in use as a palace rather than a museum for at least another fifty years. Yet the amassing of so many famous paintings is enough to make a modern day curator's mouth water. Notice they nearly all bear a striking resemblance to Panini's work. I might also add that Panini did as many as a dozen other paintings quite similar to the one above, though this one is a bit more colorful than some.

Interior of St. Peter's Rome (as seen from the entrance), ca. 1754, Giovanni Paolo Panini.
Ball Given by the Duc de Nivernais
 to Mark the Birth of the Dauphin,
 1750,  Giovanni Paolo Panini
When it came to painting classical interiors, Panini did not limit himself to fantasy art galleries. He also like painting the intricate architectural perspectives of famous churches, theaters, Roman ruins, and other famous landmarks, making him somewhat the Canaletto of Rome. Both artists specialized in producing expensive tourist souvenir art. Panini's Interior of St. Peter's Rome (above), if you've ever been there, done that, is spectacularly mindboggling--far more colorful (and yes, beautiful) than the cathedral itself. And speaking of boggling the mind, Panini's Festa in Teatro a Roma (below), contains an exquisitely extreme degree of detail both in terms of the theater's ornate architecture and décor as well as that of those attending the opera. His Ball Given by the Duc de Nivernais to Mark the Birth of the Dauphin (left) dates from around the same time.

Festa in Teatro a Roma, Giovanni Paolo Panini

Adoration of the Magi, 1755, Panini
Panini was also adept at utilizing his architectural rendering skills in depicting biblical scenes, though his Adoration of the Magi (left) stretches the scriptural version to the breaking point, depicting the Holy Family among ancient Roman ruins some seventy years before the Roman army inflicted such devastation on the city of Jerusalem. His Jesus Drives the Money Changers from the Temple (below), from 1750, though rather restrained in action by Baroque standards, Panini's depiction would seem to be somewhat more historically accurate in details. In general though, Panini usually wasn't much interested in actual history, or for that matter, in accuracy either, often rearranging the famous landmarks of Rome in his paintings as he saw fit so as to satisfy his tourist-client's inclination to want included as much as possible in their painted souvenirs.

Jesus Drives the Money Changers from the Temple, 1750, Giovanni Paolo Panini
Copyright, Jim Lane
Rome's Coliseum and Arch of
Constantine, 2010.
We see this "freedom of expression" most often in Panini's Roman landscapes. His View of the Coliseum (below), from 1747, is fairly accurate both in the details and the placement of the famous arena and the nearby Arch of Constantine (as compared to the modern-day scene, left). However, Panini's View of the Roman Forum (bottom), also from 1747, indicates any number of discrepancies from the actual scene. The 2010 photo of the forum (just below Panini's version), though from a different angle than Panini chose, even stripping away the encroachment of 20th-century urbanization, and from what I recall, bears little resemblance to Panini's Roman Forum.

View of the Coliseum, 1747, Giovanni Paolo Panini
View of the Roman Forum, 1747,  Giovanni Paolo Panini--somewhat romanticized.
Copyright, Jim Lane
Even allowing for 20th-century urbanization, Panini's
Roman Forum looks very little like the real thing (above).


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