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Dec. 23 Art Minute: Giovanni Paolo Panini, Ruins with the Farnese Hercules

Toledo Museum of Art, Toledo Art Museum, Toledo Museum
Giovanni Paolo Panini (Italian, 1692-1765), Ruins with the Farnese Hercules. Oil on canvas, 1716-17. Purchased with funds from the Libbey Endowment, Gift of Edward Drummond LIbbey, 1964.31

The ruins of ancient Rome were both revered and longed for in 18th-century Europe, as though the legacy of Rome was weathering away with these crumbling structures. This created a frenzy amongst Grand Tourists to gain as much wisdom as possible from these places while they still existed. Despite how convincingly they are painted, however, these ruins are figments of the artist’s imagination. Giovanni Paolo Panini rose to prominence as a painter of the Grand Tour by depicting the remains of the ancient past as people wished to remember them. Even so, there is an element of reality here. The Farnese Hercules was one of several ancient Roman statues whose fame extended beyond the Italian peninsula. The opportunity to look upon such a magnificent work, to behold some of the highest achievements of classical art—this was the promise that made the Grand Tour a cultural requirement rather than merely a vacation for the wealthy.

This work is currently on view in Gallery 18 in the exhibition An Inspired Age: Selections of 18th-century European Art from the Collection.