Joli, who was born in Modena, was the most widely-travelled of the great Italian view painters. After studying in his native city, he lived in Rome where he worked for a time in the studio of Giovanni Paulo Panini and then worked as a scene painter in Modena and Perugia. By 1735 he was in Venice, where he came into contact with Canaletto. The Austrian War of Succession (1741-48), however, was to impact on patronage of the arts in Europe and, like other continental artists of his generation, Joli was drawn to London. He arrived, having travelled through Germany, in 1744, and remained there until 1748, when he went to Madrid. He returned to Italy in 1755, where he became a founder-member of the Venetian Academy before settling in Naples under the patronage of Charles VII (later King Charles III of Spain).
In London, in addition to executing his celebrated views of the city, Joli is recorded as a painter of theatrical scenery and decorative schemes, notably that which survives in the hall of the Richmond home of John James Heidegger, manager of the Kings Theatre in the Haymarket. Other patrons included Charles, 2nd Duke of Richmond, grandson of King Charles II , and the 4th Earl of Chesterfield, who commissioned five important Italian views from the artist, two of which are also included in this sale. The appearance of a set of four London views by Joli is exceptional and may be unique; that they survive in their original carved giltwood frames is all the more remarkable. From the grand panoramas of the Thames to the more intimate views of Covent Garden and, particularly, the Privy Garden, Whitehall, Joli brings an exquisite attention to detail and a deft lightness of touch.
The two Thames views give a dramatic sense of the Cities of London and Westminster, the commercial and political centres of England, as they stood in the mid-18th Century, and before they merged into the great metropolis that we know today.
In the view looking East, the City of London is dominated by St. Paul's Cathedral, Sir Christopher Wren's masterpiece, which had been completed in its new form in 1710. It rises majestically above the spires of the City churches, most of which had been rebuilt after the Great Fire of 1666 which had destroyed so much of the medieval city. Among the most prominent of these spires are those of St. Bride's Fleet Street, and St. Martin's Ludgate, both to the left of St. Paul's, and those of St. Mary le Bow and St. Christopher, immediately to the right of the cathedral. The forest of spires visible beyond include among others, those of St. Michael Cornhill, St. Dunstan's-in-the-East, St. Magnus, and St. Clement Eastcheap. The Monument, built to commemorate the Great Fire of 1666 and the tallest building in the City after St. Paul's is also prominent, lying just to the left of the northern end of Old London Bridge (the area where the Great Fire had begun). Beyond can be seen the Tower of London, and in the far distance a glimpse of what would appear to be the old palace of Greenwich. To the very left of the composition is the terrace and Watergate of Somerset House, with its stone stairs leading directly to the Thames. From there, running along the northbank of the river to the east, lie a series of brick houses, warehouses, and wharves, leading eventually to the great medieval structure of old London Bridge. The bridge, built between 1176 and 1209, was the only masonry bridge across the Thames until the construction of Westminster Bridge (finally completed in 1750). Lined with shops and houses, it also had a drawbridge which allowed shipping to pass. However, by the time of this picture the future of Old London Bridge was under discussion and in 1756 the houses on it were removed to allow for the road to be widened. It was finally demolished in the 1820s. To the right of the bridge, on the South bank, is St. Mary's Overy.
The view looking West is dominated by Westminster Abbey and the Palace of Westminster, on the north bank of the river, and Lambeth Palace on the south bank, the centres of ecclesiastical and political power. In the centre of the composition is the then newly built Westminster Bridge, with its fifteen arches in white Portland stone. Construction of the bridge, which was built in response to the growth in the population of Westminster and approved by an Act of Parliament in 1736, was begun in 1739, under the supervision of the Swiss engineer Charles Labelye (c.1705-c.1781). The building of a bridge to span over 1,200 feet of river was by far the most ambitious engineering project of its day in England. Initially completed in October 1746, the fifth pier from the Westminster side began to sink the following spring. This, after much discussion, resulted in the rebuilding of the pier and two arches, and the bridge was only finally completed in November 1750, having cost a total of nearly £400,000. The first stone bridge to be built across the Thames since Old London Bridge, it revolutionised the ease with which the Thames could be crossed. On the north bank of the river can be seen the twin turrets of the old Houses of Parliament and Westminster Hall. Westminster Abbey is shown with both of Hawksmoor's towers which indicates a date after 1744. The most prominent building to the right of the Abbey is Inigo Jones's magnificent Banqueting House, completed for King Charles I in 1622, the first purely renaissance building in London, in front of which, lining the river front, are the splendid aristocratic town houses including those of the Dukes of Richmond, Montagu, and Portland, as well as that of the Earl of Pembroke.
While Joli painted numerous variants of the Thames views, those of Covent Garden and The Privy Garden, Whitehall, have not previously been recorded. Covent Garden, laid out by Inigo Jones for Francis, 4th Earl of Bedford, is shown looking West directly towards the parish Church of St. Paul (Jones's church was burnt down in 1795, but was replaced with a faithful replica by Thomas Hardwick). The first London square ever planned, Covent Garden was based on the Place des Vosges, which Jones is assumed to have seen when he visited Paris in 1609. The famous market originated in the mid-1650s, and in 1670 the 5th Earl of Bedford and his heirs were granted by royal charter the right to hold a market for flowers, fruit, roots and herbs, and to collect tolls from the dealers. The market gradually expanded, coffee houses sprang up, and Covent Garden developed into a bustling artists' quarter.
The Privy Garden had been the garden of old Whitehall Palace, before much of the palace was destoyed by fire in 1698. Inigo Jones's Banqueting House dominates the scene which is surrounded on other sides by fine London town houses which were built and lived in by royal relations and members of the aristocracy. Richmond house can be seen centre left, with the eleven-bay house of the Earls of Loudoun and Mar to its right. This view appears to be based on an engraving by Maurer of 1741 (see R. Baird, 'Richmond House in London', in The British Art Journal, Autumn 2007, III, no.2, p.6).