Masterpiece Stories

Masterpiece Story: Interior of a Picture Gallery by Giovanni Paolo Panini

Alexandra Kiely 26 September 2023 min Read

Interior of a Picture Gallery with the Collection of Cardinal Silvio Valenti Gonzaga by Giovanni Paolo Panini shows a truly spectacular assembly of artworks. Would it surprise you to learn that it was once somebody’s real art collection? All these paintings belonged to Cardinal Silvio Valenti Gonzaga (1690-1756), a collector and clergyman from a powerful Italian family. He commissioned the artist Giovanni Paolo Panini to commemorate his prized possessions in this fabulous painting. Let’s delve into it!

Interior of a Picture Gallery with the Collection of Cardinal Silvio Valenti Gonzaga; Giovanni Panini, Interior of a Picture Gallery
Giovanni Paolo Panini, Interior of a Picture Gallery with the Collection of Cardinal Silvio Valenti Gonzaga, 1749. Wadsworth Athenaeum, Hartford, CT, USA.

The Owner of the Collection

It might seem strange to hear that a religious figure amassed such luxuries, but it was actually quite common for much of Western history. Silvio Valenti Gonzaga, in particular, was no stranger to splendor and great art. He was a member of the powerful Gonzaga family, who ruled the Italian city-state of Mantua for many centuries. Although Silvio Valenti Gonzaga came from a less-powerful branch of the family, he shared his illustrious relatives’ traditional taste for art collecting and offices of religious power. Gonzaga held many important positions at the Vatican, including Secretary of State to Pope Benedict XIV. He used his influence both to collect and support the causes of art and architecture in Rome. Most importantly, he helped to found the Pinacoteca Capitolina, a significant art museum in Rome.

Silvio Valenti Gonzaga; Giovanni Panini, Interior of a Picture Gallery
Pierre Subleyras, Cardinal Silvio Valenti Gonzaga, c. 1745, The Palazzo Cini Gallery, Venice, Italy.

The Paintings

Wearing a red cardinal’s outfit that makes him easy to identify, Silvio Valenti Gonzaga appears in the center of this painting. He’s surrounded by about two hundred works of art. Though impressive, that was only a quarter of his total collection! Most of it was Italian and Dutch paintings from the Renaissance and Baroque eras, as well as some later copies. For example, several copies of paintings by Raphael appear, like the Madonna della Seggiola right beside Gonzaga.

Giovanni Paolo Pannini, Interior of a Picture Gallery with the Collection of Cardinal Silvio Valenti Gonzaga, 1740, Detail.
Giovanni Paolo Pannini, Interior of a Picture Gallery with the Collection of Cardinal Silvio Valenti Gonzaga, 1740, Wadsworth Athenaeum, Hartford, CT, USA. Detail.

Gonzaga’s nephew and heir, Luigi Valenti Gonzaga (who is also pictured in the painting), sold the collection after Silvio’s death. Since it’s no longer all together, it’s nice that there’s a visual record left for us to enjoy. Some, but not all, of the paintings shown here, have been identified, and in 2016, curators in his native Mantua reconstructed some of the collection for a major exhibition. If you understand Italian, you can read the names of some of the works they identified here.

Interior of a Picture Gallery with the Collection of Cardinal Silvio Valenti Gonzaga detail; Giovanni Panini, Interior of a Picture Gallery
Detail showing Gonzaga, Panini, and another man with a copy of Raphael’s Madonna della Seggiola. Giovanni Paolo Panini, Interior of a Picture Gallery with the Collection of Cardinal Silvio Valenti Gonzaga, 1749, Wadsworth Athenaeum, Hartford, CT, USA.

Near the figure of Silvio Valenti Gonzaga is that of the artist, Giovanni Paolo Panini (1691-1765). The Wadsworth Athenaeum, who owns the painting, says on its podcast that he is the figure in dark clothes right behind Gonzaga. Panini was a master of perspective, and he was known for his vedutas or topographic views of Rome. Panini loved architecture, and you can clearly see that in this painting. He paid close attention to every little detail of the high vaults, beautiful marble columns, and impressive decoration. However, this wasn’t the real spot where Gonzaga kept his paintings. This painting inspired two similar compositions by Panini: Ancient Rome and Modern Rome.

Bibliography

1.

Giovanni Paolo Panini, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. Accessed 12 Aug 2023.

4.

Salvador Miranda, “Valenti Gonzaga, Silvio (1690-1756)” (in: The Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church). Accessed 12 Aug 2023.

5.

Michael North, “Collecting Dutch and Flemish paintings in 18th-c Denmark” (in Dutch and Flemish art in European perspective 1500 – 1900 Part II), Gerson Digital and RKD Monographs, 2015.

6.

Terry Prest, The Great Collection. Accessed 12 Aug 2023.

Get your daily dose of art

Click and follow us on Google News to stay updated all the time

Recommended

Gerrit Dou, Dog at Rest, 1650, oil on oak panel, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA, USA. Detail. Masterpiece Stories

Masterpiece Story: Dog at Rest by Gerrit Dou

Gerrit Dou’s Dog at Rest is a masterpiece of Dutch genre painting, perfect for both dog enthusiasts and art...

James W Singer 25 February 2024

Masterpiece Stories

Masterpiece Story: Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird by Frida Kahlo

The story of Frida Kahlo is narrated through her artworks. She left an indelible mark on the art world with her emotionally charged and...

Celia Leiva Otto 29 February 2024

Ramesses II, New Kingdom, 19th Dynasty, 1279–1254 BCE, granodiorite, Temple of Amun, Karnak Temple Complex, Thebes (Luxor), Egypt, Museo Egizio, Turin, Italy. Detail. Masterpiece Stories

Masterpiece Story: Ramesses II

The statue of Ramesses II is a masterpiece of ancient Egyptian sculpture that proclaims the royal majesty and prowess of Ramesses the...

James W Singer 11 February 2024

Li Di, Red and White Cotton Roses, Southern Song dynasty, 1197, color on silk, Tokyo National Museum, Tokyo, Japan. Detail. Masterpiece Stories

Masterpiece Story: Red and White Cotton Roses by Li Di

Red and White Cotton Roses is considered Li Di’s lifetime masterpiece and a masterwork of Chinese...

James W Singer 29 January 2024