Roman Capriccio: The Pantheon and Other Monuments

Giovanni Paolo Panini (Italian, 1691-1765)

Currently on View in H211
Image Licensing

In this painting the artist has transferred ancient Roman buildings, including the Temple of Hadrian, the Pantheon, the Temple of the Sybil at Tivoli, the Maison Carrée at Nîmes, and the Theater of Marcellus, from their actual locations to an imagined square. Using artistic license to alter time and space, Panini also eliminates the bell towers that were added to the Pantheon in the 17th century.

Archeological excavations undertaken during the 18th century inspired a systematic exploration of the ancient world. These discoveries coincided with the rise of Neoclassicism, a widespread revival of the motifs and stylistic traits identified with the arts of antiquity.

Indianapolis Museum of Art: Highlights of the Collection (2005)

Giovanni Paolo Panini was a prolific painter of antiquarian capriccios, such as this imaginary view of Roman monuments. In this picture-and in its pendant, The Colosseum and Other Monuments, also at the IMA-he combined a selection of famous Roman buildings in an invented rural setting. Employing the scene painter's skills that he learned in Piacenza, Panini devised a composition reminiscent of a theatrical set. From left to right, the Temple of Hadrian, the Pantheon, the Temple of the Sybil at Tivoli, the Maison Carrée at Nîmes, and the Theater of Marcellus encircle the Obelisk of Thutmose III, forming an imaginary piazza. At the front of this ""stage,"" contemporary Roman peasants interact with antiquities under the equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius, placed by Michelangelo on the Capitoline Hill.

Remarkable is Panini's effort to restore archeological accuracy to some of these structures by removing later architectural alterations. He removed the bell towers added by Bernini to the Pantheon's pediment, as well as walled-in sections in the arches of the Theater of Marcellus. Both restorations were finally carried out many decades later.

To a man really curious in the polite arts, Rome alone must be an inexhaustible fund of entertainment. . . .
-Philip Francis, Hints to a Traveller, 1772

Possibly Jean-Baptiste Guillaume [1729-1802], known as Abbé de Gevigney, Paris, France; possibly sale at (Paillet, Paris) in 1779;{1} Alexandre-Joseph Paillet [1743-1814].{2} Possibly Duke of Norfolk, Beechill, Yorkshire, England.{3} (Arturo Grassi, New York, New York); {4} purchased for the John Herron Art Institute, Indianapolis, Indiana, now the Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields, in 1950.

{1} A.J. Paillet, Paris, Catalogue d’une riche Collection de Tableaux des Peintres les plus célebres des different ecoles qui composent le cabinet de M. ***[Gevigny, Abbé de], 1-29 December 1779, no. 34 as “Jean-Paul Pannini, Deux Tableaux représentant ce que les Ruines de antiquités romaines.” The identification of the Abbé de Gevigny and Paillet as former owners is made by JoLynn Edwards, Alexandre-Joseph Paillet: Expert et marchand de tableaux à la fin du XVIIIe siècle, Paris 1996, pp. 236-7. The IMA painting is dated 1735, though the final digit of the date is identified as a “7” in the 1779 auction catalogue, though the subject matter description matches the view that features the colosseum. The pendant that is described in the 1779 auction catalogue does not match the IMA painting’s pendant, (50.6) which lacks the Farnese Hercules.
{2} Edwards indicates that Paillet bought 61 canvases out of the Abbé de Gevigney Sale. If this painting was one of them, it was a pendant to another painting and not yet “paired” with the IMA’s other Roman Capriccio (50.6). See footnote above.
{3} This information is presumed to come from Grassi at the time of purchase, and has not been corroborated.
{4} Grassi corresponded with the IMA director, Wilbur Peat, in June 1950 about the identification of some of the sculptures depicted in this painting. Interestingly, Grassi’s wife, Cornelia Lemcke, was a native of Indianapolis, and they spent time in Indiana regularly.

Object Information

Giovanni Paolo Panini (Italian, 1691-1765)
creation date
oil on canvas
39 x 53-1/2 in.
approximately 47-7/8 x 61-1/2 x 4-1/2 in. (framed)
accession number
credit line
Gift of Lila Allison Lilly in memory of her husband, Josiah Kirby Lilly
Public Domain
European Painting and Sculpture Before 1800

You May Also Like