In March 1709, a competition was announced to decorate the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral. The most coveted contemporary commission, it attracted James Thornhill, Antonio Pellegrini, Pierre Berchet, Louis Chéron, and Giovanni Battista Catenaro. By 1710 the field was narrowed to two candidates, Thornhill and Pellegrini, each being required to execute their designs on a model of the cupola.
Political contention delayed a decision, but on 28 June 1715 the former was awarded the commission by a Whig dominated committee. Archbishop Tenison’s insistence that ‘the painter employed be a Protestant; and secondly that he be an Englishman’ has no known contemporary source, but does echo a growing patriotic sentiment. This was reflected by a comment in the Weekly Packet of June 1715 suggesting that the committee’s decision would ‘silence all the loud applauses hitherto given to foreign artists’.
Such irritation became more widely expressed in the 1730s. Venetian painter Jacopo Amigoni had arrived in London in 1729. As an architectural decorator he joined forces with Gaetano Brunetti working on Lord Tankerville’s house in St James’s Square in early 1730 and on the Duke of Chandos’s residence at Cavendish Square in 1735.
His work was fashionable in aristocratic London, but the taste for Italian opera and Venetian Rococo painting had started to decline by that time. It began to raise nationalistic hackles, leading to a movement in favour of a more robust English style in music, theatre, and art. His staircase decoration for the Spanish ambassador at Powis House sparked controversy in 1734. Amigoni was attacked by James Ralph in the Weekly Register as a foreigner who painted in an overblown and superficial manner, compared to the wholesome qualities of English art. Hogarth shared such feelings of hostility.