Onlookers at the Papal Visit to the Coffee House of the Quirinale, Rome, November 1744
(Giovanni Paolo Panini)


It was not until comparatively late in his career, that Panini achieved the mastery of landscape and, at the same time, the command of figure painting which are so evident in his two splendid representations of the state visit of King Charles VII of Naples (later King Charles III of Spain) to Pope Benedict XIV in 1744. Panini painted the formal homage the Bourbon king paid to the centre of the Catholic world in his Charles VII visiting the Basilica of Saint Peter’s (Naples, Museo di Capodimonte) showing the King, followed by his personal guard and members of his household, approaching the steps of the Basilica where the senior representatives of the Papal Household, escorted by the Swiss Guard, await to greet him before dozens of eager spectators. In its pendant, Charles VII visiting the Pope at the Coffee-House of the Quirinale, Panini has illustrated their more informal meeting, at the Papal palace high on the Quirinal hill.

The King, fresh from his victory over the Austrians at the battle of Velletri (12th August 1744), arrived in Rome on the 3rd November. His first meeting with the Pope was at the Coffee-House; only later did he visit Saint Peter’s and Saint John Lateran. The surviving pencil sketches of figures for both works (the best of which can be seen in the British Museum and the Berlin National Gallery Prints and Drawings collection) suggest that Panini was himself a witness to these scenes, so we may assume that he was advised in advance of the King’s visit of the proposed commission. This delightful oil sketch is apparently the only painted preparatory work for these works known to survive. In its energy and freshness it demonstrates Panini’s skill as a draftsman and figure painter, and in its style the influence of French painter Pierre Suybleyras, then working in Rome.

The fountain is shown on the right of the finished view of the Coffee-House. The three figures leaning on the left balustrade, although dressed in purple in the finished picture are essentially unchanged from the sketch, as are the four figures behind them – although the standing gentleman holding onto the wall is slightly less precariously placed in the final work. The same figure leans from the window behind, but the Swiss guard who appears on the lower level of the fountain at left in the finished work is omitted altogether, as are the heads of the crowd standing below the stone edge of the small pool into which the water is flowing. It is on the right of the sketch that we may observe the more obvious differences: the leafy branch has been eliminated in the finished work, and while the young man appears to be extending his hat to catch water from the fountain in our sketch, he and his companions have been brought back and forward to that the waving hat is transformed into a mere gesture. The branch extending below the fountain in our sketch is eliminated altogether in the final work and replaced with four Neapolitan soldiers dressed in the bright blue uniform of the Royal Guard.

Prof. Ferdinando Arisi has confirmed the authenticity of this sketch, and its relationship to Charles VII visiting the Pope at the Coffee-House of the Quirinale (see Fig. 1).

13 3/3 x 11¼ in. 34.9 x 28.6 cm.
Oil on Canvas

Matthiesen Gallery, ‘Collectanea’, 1998

Where is It?
Private Collection
Historical Period
Rococo - 1720-1780
Genre or Daily Life
Italian - Roman
1999-Collectanea 1700-1800.
Hard back catalogue of the Exhibition held in London and New York, 220 pages fully illustrated with 46 colour plates. £30 or $40 inc. p.& p.

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