This dramatic and subtly balanced Florentine view is one of the most successful city-scapes that Patch undertook while in Florence in the 1760s.
Patch, artist and physiognomist, was baptized in Exeter in 1725, the second of the three children of John Patch, a surgeon. Patch's early years were spent studying medicine in Exeter and London but he soon abandoned his medical interested and travlled to Italy and is recorded in Rome in 1747 where he met the fellow Devonian, Sir Joshua Reynolds. In Rome, he worked in the studio of Claude-Joseph Vernet and in 1753 became a member of the British Academy. However, at the end of 1755, following a homosexual incident, he was banished from the Papal States and settled in Florence, where he remained, for the rest of his life.
In Florence, Patch developed a strong friendship with the most influential British resident in the city, Sir Horace Mann. Sir Horace, British Envoy to the Grand Duchy of Florence and in 1782, Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary, introduced Patch to the touring British milordi, whose patronage enabled Patch to establish a flourishing practice, predominantly painting Florentine views and caricature groups. His caricatures often ridiculed the pretensions of his patrons, the noble Grand Tourists; The Golden Asses (1761, The Lewis Walpole Library), the largest of these subjects contains thirty-seven figures, including Lord Cowper, the Duke of Roxburgh, Sir Charles Boothby, Sir Horace Mann and the artist himself, seated upon a scupture of a donkey, the plinth inscribed with a quote from Machiavelli exhorting the viewer of the picture to see beyond the airs and graces of the group.
In Florence, Patch renewed his interest in physiognomy and studied the development of early Renaissance art. That Patch was recognised as a connoisseur is apparent by his inclusion in Zoffany's The Tribuna degli Uffizi (1772, Royal Collection) where he is portrayed discussing Titian's Venus of Urbino.
This view is taken looking across the Piazza della Signoria to the Loggia dei Lanzi, in which Benvenuto Cellini's Judith with the head of Holophernes and Gambologna's Rape of the Sabines - two of the finest Renaissance sculptures - can be seen through the left and right arches resopectively. To the left, the piazza is dominated by the Palazzo Vecchio, while between, leading down to the River Arno, is the Galleria (now the Uffizi), the most significant attraction for the Grand Tourist visiting Florence. Patch is known to have painted four other pictures from the same viewpoint, the largest of which is signed and dated 1763 (F.J.B. Watson, op. cit. pp. 39-40). However, Patch's patrons more often required city panoramas or views of the Arno, indeed, when the present picture was sold in these rooms in 1921, it was offered with a companion, View of the Arno with the Ponte Santa Trinita, a version of which was sold by Christie's on 18 April 1996, lot 35.