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Title Figures in Classical Ruins
Collection Fairfax House, York
Artist Attributed to school of Panini, Giovanni Paolo (Italian painter, ca. 1692-1765)
Date Earliest about 1730
Date Latest about 1760

Giovanni Paolo Panini was one of the most popular artists in Rome in the eighteenth century. The Fairfax House painting shows various topographical scenes arranged together in one place, typical of the eighteenth-century capriccio, a genre popular among tourists and the type of painting for which Panini was best known. The artist, one of Panini's contemporaries, has depicted Trajan's Column from Trajan's Forum, the Temple of Vesta that still stands between the Forum and the River Tevere (Tiber). Through the arches of classical ruins which dominate the foreground of the painting can be seen the dome of St Peters', with the Sistine Chapel to the right. A few puffs of black smoke are painted rising up from this chapel's ceiling, denoting the choice of a new Pope. In the background, a port or harbour can be seen (perhaps Ostia), allowing the artist to depict a ‘Roman' boat. Romantic figures in Roman dress populate the foreground ruins.

The painting, and the other capricci like it that still exist, were inexpensive souvenirs of the tourist's visit to the Eternal City. They would usually depict a group of buildings, and events, that appealed most to the tourist's fancy. The rituals of the Catholic Church were fascinating, if bewildering, to most English (Protestant) visitors to the city: the ceremony of choosing a new Pope was one of the most interesting they could observe. Paintings such as this can also be understood as offering important information on the idealised, sentimentalised and historicized way in which the city of Rome was regarded in the eighteenth century.

Current Accession Number NT1984/022
Subject place (Rome)
Measurements 73.0 x 95.3 cm cm (estimate)
Material oil on canvas
Acquisition Details Bequeathed by Noel Terry 1984.
Notes Eighteenth-century British aristocrats were taught Latin and Greek and to have a good knowledge of the history of the ancient world; their tastes were shaped by this early induction into the classics. Evidence of the eighteenth-century engagement with the classical past can be found in contemporary literature, philosophy, art and architecture (even Fairfax House is built in the classical tradition). Every year a privileged few left Britain to complete the Grand Tour. This usually culminated in a stay in Rome, where the ruins of the Roman world could be viewed at first hand. The art of this ancient, revered empire was exported throughout Europe: Panini and his followers provided a cheap, easily transportable reminder of the experience of Rome.
Rights Owner Fairfax House, York
Author Dr Ruth Stewart



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