Giovanni Paolo Panini, ‘Capriccio of a classical loggia; and Capriccio of palaces with giochi d'acqua’, Christie's Old Masters

Described by Ferdinando Arisi as original works of the highest quality (private communication, 15 May 1992), these fresh and lively capricci are among the earliest known paintings by Giovanni Paolo Panini. Arisi has suggested a date of around 1716-1718 for the pair, not long after Panini had finished his apprenticeship in his native Piacenza and settled in Rome (Arisi, op. cit., p. 22). Arisi was fascinated by the signature on the second canvas, noting that its reference to the artist's hometown is unique. He observed, however, that the Panciroli-Posterola guidebook of Rome from 1725 describes pictures in the Gallery of the Palazzo Albani as having been painted by Giovan Paolo from Piacenza (private communication, 15 May 1992). It is not surprising that the young Panini, having just relocated from Piacenza, would have sought to acknowledge his place of origin. The discovery of the signature sheds light on why he is purposefully described as da Piacenza in the guidebook of 1725. Intrigued by this revelation, Arisi discussed the present works in a lecture given at the Louvre in 1992, The Formation of Gian Paolo Panini and French culture in Rome in the 18th century (La formazione di Gian Paolo Panini e la cultura francese a Roma nel secolo XVIII).

Arisi has noted that both pictures reveal the influence of the Emilian stage designer Ferdinando Galli-Bibiena (1656-1743), who trained Panini in Rome in painting illusionistic architecture. Furthermore, he observed, the figures in the paintings are painted with an elegance and verve that may have been inspired by the fêtes galantes of Watteau (Arisi, op. cit, p. 19). Similar works from this moment in Panini's career are the Giochi d'acqua in the collection of the Earl of Spencer, Northampton, and the capriccio at the Indiana University Art Museum, Bloomington (inv. 74.19.2). Together with these, the present works comprise a group of exceptionally fine paintings that explain Panini's early success in Rome and his admission to the prestigious Accademia di San Luca in 1718-1719.

The Capriccio of palaces with 'giochi d'acqua' depicts playful Water Games that were made possible by new feats of hydraulic engineering in the 16th century. Italian gardens like those at the Villa Farnese in Caprarola and the Villa Lante in Bagnaia were among the first to include such features, and similar light-hearted contrivances became popular in French gardens as well, including at Versailles. One of the most popular of the Giochi d'acqua in 18th-century Europe involved a practical joke: a gardener or accomplice could turn a hidden wheel to activate a series of water jets, surprising surrounding guests by trapping them and soaking their finery. Such a game is depicted in the work at hand: as streams of water spurt suddenly to life, surprised visitors leap to their feet and dash away, some throwing their hands into the air and others hastily pulling their clothing away from their ankles in an effort to keep dry. Onlookers point and laugh at the excitement, while a happy dog jumps eagerly in the spray.

Signature: The second signed and inscribed 'Gio: Paolo Piacenti/ no/ in Roma (on the base of the statue)

F. Arisi, Giovanni Paolo Panini, 1691-1765, exhibition catalogue, Museo Civico, Piacenza; Louvre, Paris; and Herzog Anton Ulrich Museum, Braunschweig, 1993, pp. 19, 22, illustrated.


Private collection, Norfolk, United Kingdom, from the mid-19th century.

Anonymous sale; Christie's, London, 10 July 1992, lot 29, where acquired by the present owner.

About Giovanni Paolo Panini

As one of the vedutisti—or “view painters”—of Italy, Giovanni Paolo Panini was highly regarded for his precise renderings of real and imaginary views of Rome. Panini began his career by training under a stage designer in his native city Piacenza, followed by a move to study figure drawing in the city that would ultimately define his subject matter: Rome. Panini captured the ancient and modern architecture of the Romans, often combining multiple views of the city in one painting by depicting the monuments as artwork arranged in an extravagant gallery. Panini was one of the first artists to concentrate on painting the ancient ruins, which he rendered in a surreal, illusionistic style. In addition to view paintings, Panini was also successful with architecture, stage design, portraits, and decorative frescoes (the latter two projects commissioned for Pope Benedict XIV.)

Italian, 1691-1765, Piacenza, Italy, based in Rome, Italy