The Banners of the Vatican Basilica by Panini

My personal favorite oil on canvas painting at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. is called the "Interior of Saint Peter's, Rome" by Giovanni Paolo Panini. This lovely images dates from 1754 . The artist was born in 1691 in Piacenza and died in 1765 in Rome. 

Panini was also an architect, evidenced in his images and spacial reasoning. His masterful use of perspective and optics makes him stand apart, one of my all-time favorite Baroque painters. The painting was donated to the museum in 1968. The photos here I took on the occasion of my visit last spring. 

The thrill of this image draws in the attention of the viewer who studies the wide vista and then small details of the scene.  This style was typical of the artist -- he was one of the veduisti or "view painters" (his works illustrate highly detailed, large-scale images that compel the viewer to look closer). 

The viewer's attention is drawn up to the images of the colorful banners of saints hanging from the rear ceiling of the nave. In those years we can assume this custom of suspended banners was a common sight at St. Peter's for the special occasions of canonizations. I don't know all the details. In any event, this custom died out many years ago. Perhaps one day it will be revived? 

I include a full image of the painting below, mounted on the museum wall of almond-colored Roman damask. The Baroque frame is also fitting and does not take away from the image. 

I also include various close-up images below to delight the reader's eyes and help illustrate this forgotten custom of yesteryear. Notice the rich use of Baroque color and design, with color, light, and motion all dancing on the surface of the images. The banners are illumined by the clerestory windows and no doubt were of epic proportions to match the grandezza or grandeur of the basilica. 

These banners must not only have been substantially large, but also no doubt weighty. Images of St. Philip Neri and St. Teresa of Avila can be seen, both having been canonized together on March 12, 1622 by Pope Gregory XV, along with St. Francis Xavier, St. Igantius of Loyola, and St. Isidore the Laborer. The banners were deliberately made sizable enough to be seen with relative ease from the ground. They may also have been used in processions. 

If any readers have more information on these banners or when the custom died out, please join the discussion on Facebook and leave your comments.  


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