Approaches to Florence, City of the Medici.
Israel Silvestre (French, Nancy 1621–1691 Paris), View of the Ponte Vecchio, Florence, 17th century, Brush and green, brown and gray wash over black chalk and graphite, 10 3/8 x 16 9/16 in. (26.3 x 42.1 cm), Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
Francois Xavier-Fabre, A View of Florence from the North Bank of the Arno, 1813, Oil on canvas, 96 x 135 cm, National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh.
Bernardo Bellotto, The Arno in Florence with the Ponte alla Carraia, c. 1745, Oil on canvas, 74.5 x 106.5 cm, Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.
Though Florence was pleasant to look at from a distance, one’s first views of the city didn’t inspire awesome reactions like Naples where Vesuvius dominated the scene, or Rome with the complex of St Peter’s a conspicuous feature. Visitors approached Florence with no preconceptions formed by images or by their imaginations, not the same as Rome and Naples. There was no tradition of VEDUTE as in Venice, though we can see prints and paintings of Florence in the 17th century by such minor artists as Israel Silvestre. Compared to Venice where you had such diligent painters of views, like Canaletto and Guardi, Florence was thin on the ground. There were a few exceptions such as Guiseppe Zocchi who was to Florence what the other two were to Venice. One could also mention Canaletto’s nephew, Bernardo Bellotto who painted about six views of Florence when he visited it in 1742. Then there is Thomas Patch who earned a living from painting scenes of Florence for tourists on the Grand Tour. It may also be significant that the buildings in Florence are not usually found in engravings and collectors’ albums in the 18th century, though of course artists did draw and paint views. Above all, there were no equivocal responses towards Florence. This was the city of the Medici whereas Rome stood for papal absolutism and Naples had lawlessness and lazzaroni, beggars. The standard account of Florence by British visitors at start of the 18th century would be in terms of the Medici princes and this affected how visitors saw the art and architecture in the city. Marco Lastri said that the architecture of Florence could not be understood unless you connected it with the history of the city, Medici absolutism and REPUBLICANISM alike. This kind of historical exposition wasn’t provided by the normal tourist guides which would not cover such topics as Florentine republicanism as an antidote to the authoritarian reign of the Medici.
Florence at Street Level.
William Marlow, Street in Florence with the Duomo and Campanile in the Background, ca. 1765, watercolour, pen and black ink and graphite on medium, moderately textured, cream laid paper, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.
Unknown Italian Artist, Hester Lynch Piozzi (née Salusbury; Mrs Thrale), oil on canvas, 1785-1786, 29 3/4 in. x 24 3/4 in. (756 mm x 629 mm), Purchased, 1973, NPG, London.
What was it like to walk through the streets of Florence during the era of the Grand Tour? We get some idea from reading the travel literature of the time, especially those accounts written by women. The broadness of the streets in Florence met with the approval of the British who contrasted Florence with the narrow thoroughfares of Genoa which were awkward to navigate. As Hestor Piozzi,  the English wife of an Italian musician, said regretfully in 1785, “I must bid adieu to beautiful Florence where the streets are kept so clean one is afraid to dirty them, and not one’s self, by walking in them; where the public walks are all nicely weeded, as in England, and the gardens have a homeish and Bath-like look, that is excessively cheering to an English eye.” Female travellers such as Piozzi, Lady Anne Miller and Jane Flaxman, wife of the celebrated sculptor, praised the spotless quality of the streets. However, these views about CLEANLINESS in the streets were hardly new. Back in 1400, Leonardo Bruni had commented on the hygienic nature of Florence though he had associated that quality with republican freedom, the opposite of Medici authority. Something of the elegant, “Bath-like” view of Florence may have been carried over into drawings and engravings of the streets of Florence during this period, especially as rendered by English artists like William Marlow. It was also safer walking through the streets of Florence unlike Rome where you had banditti nearby, or Naples crowded with the lazzaroni who had an unsavoury reputation. Despite reading about Italian violence in Jacobean tragedy and Machiavelli, English tourists found no “culture of the stiletto” in Florence.
Looking Up (at the Surrounding Buildings and Architecture).
Guiseppe Zocchi, The Piazza della Signoria in Florence, Oil on canvas, 57 x 87 cm, Private collection.
Bernardo Bellotto, The Piazza della Signoria in Florence, 1742, 900 x 610 cms, Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest.
British tourists remarked on the “good figure” of the houses and buildings in Florence. What we could call the “Florentine aesthetic” compared favourably with the baroque curves and columns of Rome and Naples. This view had been propagated by Joseph Addison and Edward Wright whose opinions were echoed later in the century by other travellers such as Nugent and Northall. The facades of the palazzi and fronts in the Tuscan or “rustic” order were especially admired by the British because of their perceived similarity to the Palladian style which had been made fashionable in England by the Earl of Burlington. Some visitors like James Hall described Florentine architecture as striking structures “in a noble Roman manner.” However, the French begged to differ. Charles de Brosse deemed Florentine architecture flat and lacking the relief and movement of columns seen in the work of Borromini and Bernini, examples of whose work could be found in Rome and Naples. Later in the century and into the early 19th century, more fault is found with the “stark facades and heavy proportions of the palazzi” in Florence. They are described as “gloomy, cumbersome, oppressive and prisonlike” and the Palazzo Vecchio was simply dismissed as an “ugly Gothic building”, and its tower condemned. Even John Breval, one of Florence’s most ardent supporters, found this structure “bold “ but “somewhat shocking to the Eye” Then there was Francis Drake who complained about the Ponte Vecchio suffering a similar “deformity” as the bridges in Paris and suggesting that the houses be taken down to open up a prospect across the Arno. Staying with bridge comparisons, William Forbes compared the Ponte Vecchio to London Bridge, not a commendation. These judgements would come from travellers whose taste was influenced by the Greek revival, although eventually visitors became more sophisticated in their opinions holding more considered thoughts about the “Gothic” style. Many of these 18th century sources were paraphrasing Vasari, e.g. his remarks on Giotto’s Campanile- pink and marbled exterior not congruent with architectural taste in England. In this the critics of Florentine architecture were consistent with Vasari who makes some back-handed remarks about its “German (Gothic) style.” Despite these critical views of Florentine architecture, the city was still regarded with favour and it would become more popular with the emergence of “picturesque” accounts of Florence in the 19th century.
Inside: The British and their Social Circles.
Thomas Patch, The Cognoscenti, Including Captain Walcot, Mr Apthorpe and Thomas Patch, late 1750s, Oil on canvas, 77 x 113 cm, National Trust, Petworth House.
Thomas Patch, British Gentlemen at Sir Horace Mann’s House, 1763-5, Yale Centre for British Art
Thomas Patch, Self-Portrait as a Bull, late 1760s, etching.
In Florence the aim of a visit was not to pursue antiquity- a mainly masculine pastime- but to use Sweet’s words, “the appreciation of art and the cultivation of polite society in the conversazione, the theatres and opera houses.” Women were obviously present at these social events occurring inside the structures of Florence, but they are mainly absent from the visual record. It is a fact however that women visited Florence armed with the famous connoisseur Jonathan Richardson’s An Account of Some of the Statues, Bas-Reliefs, Drawings and Pictures in Italy, with Remarks (1722) or the French expert Nicholas Cochin’s Voyage d’Italie (1758). So the ducal galleries and Palazzo Pitti were as attractive to women as to men despite what might appear in the paintings of social life in Florence. Zoffany’s famous view of the Tribuna might be compared with Lady Miller’s obscure blow-by-blow account of how she and her husband measured the anatomy of the Venus de Medici. Whatever the visitor’s sex, from 1740, the British traveller in Florence gravitated towards Sir Horace Mann whose tenure lasted until his death in 1786. Sir Horace also invited Italians to his house in order to get the two nations to mix and generally the two nationalities were on friendly terms. Other British aristocrats such as the third Earl Cowper, Lord Tylney and the Countess of Oxford contributed to the “Anglophile tone of Florentine culture.” We get a flavour of these gatherings from the art of Thomas Patch, although that artist is ruthlessly satiric in his renderings of the cognoscenti, or the informed experts frequenting the salons. Patch did not spare himself since he frequently appears in these visual burlesques, even portraying himself as a bull in a field with the skyline of Florence behind him!
The British and the Florentines.
Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, Florence, 1530, design by Michelangelo.
Same, staircase leading to Lawrentian Library.Add caption
Michelangelo, Tomb of Giuliano de' Medici, 1526-33, Marble, 630 x 420 cm, Sagrestia Nuova, San Lorenzo, Florence.
Cordiality between the British and the Florentines dates back to the late 17th century where it is stressed that the Grand Duke Cosimo III is well disposed towards the British. Cosimo had visited England in 1668-9. However, the end of the Medici dynasty in 1737 led to the absentee rule of Francis Stephen, later Holy Roman Emperor followed in 1765 by Duke Peter Leopold who became head of Florence, an appointment that met with British approval. Amongst his other deeds, Duke Peter opened up the Lawrentian library (designed by Michelangelo) to visitors, as we learn from the travel journal of the artist John Flaxman who visited Florence with his wife on the way home from Rome in 1787. British artists like Flaxman spent some time in the Medici Chapel as we can see from his sketchbook which has drawings of Michelangelo’s sculpture from the Medici chapel in San Lorenzo. In summary, Florence’s reputation became one of “urbane civility” both on the streets and in the Florentine conversaziones. To the British, Florence was a “home from home” as we can see in the writings of travellers like Miller, Piozzi and Jane and John Flaxman who have favourable things to say about the good catering and living in Florence. More “home thoughts from abroad” occurred to the Welsh painter, Thomas Jones, who despite his delight on seeing the Venus de Medici in the Tribuna, confided to his journal: “ I could hardly help fancying myself in England and that increasing phantom- distance from home which continually haunted my Mind at every Other Stage, vanished in an instant.”
1) Views of Florence in modern times
2) Thomas Patch (1725-82), A Panoramic View of Florence from Bellosguardo, 1775, oil on canvas, 94.6 x 158.2 (37 ¼ x 62 ¼ inches).
3) Israel Silvestre (French, Nancy 1621–1691 Paris), View of the Ponte Vecchio, Florence, 17th century, Brush and green, brown and gray wash over black chalk and graphite, 10 3/8 x 16 9/16 in. (26.3 x 42.1 cm), Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
4) William Marlow (1740-1813), A Post-Ho use near Florence, c. 1770, watercolour, Tate, London.
5) John Robert Cozens, (1752-1799), View of Florence from South Bank of the Arno, ca. 1780, Graphite on thin, slightly textured, cream laid paper, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.
6) Charles Gore, Florence Opposite the Cassines, watercolour over graphite on moderately thick, moderately textured, blued white laid paper, 6 3/8 x 11 3/4 inches (16.2 x 29.8 cm), undated, Yale Centre for British Art, Mellon Collection.
7) Att to Guiseppe Zocchi, Landscape Prospect with a Buggy and a Herd of Goats, 1711-67, Charcoal or black chalk (stumped), pen and brown ink, brush with brown and gray wash, highlighted with white chalk (?), on blue-gray paper, 13-1/8 x 19-5/16 in. (33.4 x 49.1 cm), Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
8) Bernardo Bellotto, The Arno in Florence with the Ponte alla Carraia, c. 1745, Oil on canvas, 74.5 x 106.5 cm, Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.
9) Thomas Patch, View of the Arno with the Ponte Santa Trinità, Florence, 1769, oil on canvas, 94 x 134.5 cm, Private Collection.
10) Francois Xavier-Fabre, A View of Florence from the North Bank of the Arno, 1813, Oil on canvas, 96 x 135 cm, National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh.
11) William Marlow, Street in Florence with the Duomo and Campanile in the Background, ca. 1765, watercolour, pen and black ink and graphite on medium, moderately textured, cream laid paper, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.
12) Unknown Italian Artist, Hester Lynch Piozzi (née Salusbury; Mrs Thrale), oil on canvas, 1785-1786, 29 3/4 in. x 24 3/4 in. (756 mm x 629 mm), Purchased, 1973, NPG, London.
13) Guiseppe Zocchi, Canto dei Carnesecchi, 1744, Etching and engraving, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
14) Anon, mid-18th century, View of Piazza San Firenze and the church of San Firenze, Florence, view toward Arno, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
15) Guiseppe Zocchi, The Piazza della Signoria in Florence, Oil on canvas, 57 x 87 cm, Private collection.
16) Bernardo Bellotto, The Piazza della Signoria in Florence, 1742, 900 x 610 cms, Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest.
17) Thomas Patch, The Piazza della Signoria in Florence, 1763, Oil on canvas, 85 x 118 cm, Plymouth City Council: Museum and Art Gallery.
18) Palazzo Vecchio, Florence, begun 1299.
19) Guiseppe Zocchi, Florence Cathedral, 1754, Etching
20) Campanile, Florence, probably based on an original design by Giotto (Vasari).
21) Sala del Cinquecento, completed 1565, Fresco, Palazzo Vecchio, Florence.
22) Thomas Patch, British Gentlemen at Sir Horace Mann’s House, 1763-5, Yale Centre for British Art
23) Zoffany, Detail from The Tribune, Uffizi, left to right: Mr Gordon, Patch, Sir John Taylor Bt, Mann and in front Felton Hervey
24) Thomas Patch, The Cognoscenti, Including Captain Walcot, Mr Apthorpe and Thomas Patch, late 1750s, Oil on canvas, 77 x 113 cm, National Trust, Petworth House.
25) Thomas Patch, Self-Portrait as a Bull, late 1760s, etching.
26) Thomas Patch, A Caricature Group in Florence, 1763, oil on canvas, Oil on canvas, 83.6 x 118.7 cm, Royal Albert Memorial Museum, Exeter.
27) Brancacci Chapel, Santa Maria della Carmine, Florence, 1426-82.
28) John Flaxman, Study of Night by Michelangelo, Tomb of Giuliano de' Medici, Church of San Lorenzo, Florence, Italian Sketchbook, Studies from Florence and Rome, begun 1787, Graphite, pen and black ink, and gray wash on medium, slightly textured, cream laid paper bound in vellum, 8 5/8 x 6 inches (21.9 x 15.2 cm) Spine: 9 inches (22.9 cm), Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.
29) Michelangelo, Tomb of Giuliano de' Medici, 1526-33, Marble, 630 x 420 cm, Sagrestia Nuova, San Lorenzo, Florence.
30) Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, Florence, 1530, design by Michelangelo.
31) Same, staircase leading to Lawrentian Library.
32) Guiseppe Filippo Liberati Marchi (1742-1803), Portrait of Thomas Jones, 1768, Oil on canvas, 92 x 72 cm National Museum Wales, Cardiff.
 Hester Lynch Thrale (born Hester Lynch Salusbury and after her second marriage, Hester Lynch Piozzi) (27 January 1741 [NS] – 2 May 1821) was a British diarist, author, and patron of the arts. Her diaries and correspondence are an important source of information about Samuel Johnson and 18th-century life.
 Laudatio Florentinae Urbis (In Praise of the City of Florence).
 Vasari, Life of Giotto, Vite.
 Sweet, Cities and the Grand Tour, 72.
 Memoirs of Thomas Jones, cited in Sweet, 75.