ITALY LOST: Following in the Footsteps of the Old MastersLondon
View of the River Arno with the Ponte alle Grazie, c. 1760s
Christie’s, London, 27 May 1921, lot 136 (attributed to William Marlow),
Sotheby's, New York, 24 January 2008, lot 424.
Patch remained in Rome until 1755, when he was expelled by the Tribunale della Santa Inquisizione on grounds of religious or sexual indiscretion (or both). In Florence, the patronage and friendship of Sir Horace Mann offered him introductions to the visiting British Grand Tourists, who commissioned from him copies after the Old Masters and views of the city. During the 1760s he painted a series of caricature groups of the painters, dealers, and tourists of Anglo-Florentine society, which remain among the most noteworthy and individual contributions to British eighteenth-century painting. Patch’s views of the city, meanwhile, clearly drew upon his experiences in the atelier of Vernet in Rome and can be seen as a sort of parallel to Canaletto’s views of Venice, especially in a city relatively ill-served by view painters save the native Giuseppe Zocchi (1716–1767), whose designs, collected in a series of prints entitled Scelta di XXIV vedute delle principali contrade, piazza, chiese e palazzo della Citt di Firenze (published 1744), Patch often copied. Although his views, chiefly along the river Arno, found a ready market among the British visitors to the city, and his patrons included the Duke of York and Horace Walpole, and three such works were purchased by George III for the Royal Collection as early as 1764, Patch thought little of them beside his more scholarly interests in Quattrocento art, and even derided them as mere “bridge painting”. Nevertheless, though Patch may have painted them for business rather than pleasure, his vedute of Florence constituted a unique and invaluable record of the city for its visitors. As Mrs. Piozzi pronounced in a famous remark of 1785, “Florence is the loveliest city I ever saw…but perhaps I said that before—I say it all day long!”.
This beautiful panorama offers an idyllic view of the city of Florence and the Ponte alle Grazie from the banks of the Arno. Constructed in 1237 and originally conceived with nine arches, the Ponte alle Grazie, which connects the Via dei Benci and Piazza de’ Mozzi, was one of the first bridges to be built in the city of Florence. The only bridge to survive the great floods of 1333, it did not, however, fare as well under military attack, and was destroyed by the Germans in 1944. This painting is therefore an important historic document of the early appearance of this medieval structure. The painter seems to have situated himself approximately in the spot where the Ponte San Niccolò begins today, on the city side of the Arno. At right, beyond the walls of the Zecca Vecchia, the top of the famous tower of the Palazzo Vecchio can be seen. At left is the fortified complex of the Porta San Niccolò, identifiable by its tower, which is rather curiously lacking its merlons. Its curtain wall extends down to the water’s edge, surrounding the church and campanile of San Niccolò, as well as part of the Palazzo Torrigiani. At the center of the background, the tower of the Santa Spirito rises up above the horizon, flanked to the left by convent buildings that continue up into the distant hillside towards San Miniato all’Monte. In the foreground, native Florentines and tourists mingle in the business of daily life: finely dressed gentlemen board and disembark from river ferries, a washerwoman launders clothes in the water, a fisherman and woman converse with a man on horseback, and a group of young men frolic in the river dressed in their undergarments, while dogs sniff and stare.
Filippo Napoletano, Jacques Callot (in an example now in the collection of the Duke of Devonshire at Chatsworth), and Zocchi had all captured versions of this view prior to Patch, yet all approached the scene from a closer viewpoint and exclude the Zecca Vecchia. Patch may well have been inspired by the more panoramic perspectives and views of Vanvitelli, whose vedute also sought to observe aspects of daily life in a given city, rather than focusing on famous landmarks. Three versions of this composition are known. One was sold at Sotheby’s, London (5 July 1967, lot 7), a second was sold at Sotheby’s, London (9 March 1988, lot 64); and the third is in the collection of the Marquess of Cholmondeley at Houghton Hall, Norfolk, and was one of a pair delivered to Horace Walpole by Sir Horace Mann in December 1771.
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