(Exeter, 1725 - Florence, 1782)
View of Piazza della Signoria in Florence with the Grand Duke's Guard's Military
Black chalk, pen and brown in, wash an colored inks on paper
203 x 384 mm (7.99 x 15.12 inches)
- Reference Number: 0170
In Piazza della Signoria, lightened by an afternoon light, in the presence of a small audience gathered on few benches on a tribune next to the equestrian statue of Cosimo I de' Medici, the military parade of the guards of the Grand Duke Pietro Leopoldo of Lorena (1765 - 1790), son of the Empress Maria Theresa of Habsburg and brother of Joseph II, is taking place. The soldiers, forming an L-shaped cordon and led by four battalion officers, can be distinguished, although in the pen's hasty trace, thanks to the tricorns and the bayonets. At the centre of the square, under the grand building of Palazzo Vecchio, we see a conspicuous troop of drummers, while on the foreground on the right a group of cavalrymen is bearing the banner and the cart with the celebration deployment of London's lineage, on the centre a couple of gentlemen are waiting for the landau carriage and on the left, a figure, maybe a soldier on look-out, is watching in Palazzo Uguccioni's shadow.
The stroke's high quality and the precise expertise in the construction of the prospective surfaces trace back for certain this drawing to the hand of English painter Thomas Patch . The artist, born in Exeter in Devonshire, when he was around twenty years old he moved to Italy, at first in Rome where his presence was attested from 1747 while working in Claude Joseph Verner's workshop , then, after the promulgation of a papal order banishing him from the city, for never unraveled reasons, but apparently it has to do with a scandal of an homosexual nature involving the painter in Florence, his adopted city since he stayed there from 1755 until his death in 1782 . His activity developed between the one as portraitist for the English community, orbiting around the charismatic ambassador of the crown in the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, Sir Horace Mann , the one as caricature painter and engraver, where he shows a sharp power of observation and a pungent irony, and the more lucrative one as landscape painter, in a time characterized by the Grand Tour practice in the cultural education of European aristocracy's offsprings. In his views of Florence, Patch shows the same attention to the detail that informed his portrait production; the same introspective ability that made his - real or caricature - subjects alive can be seen in his portraits of the city, where the human figures have not only the role of contour, but also the one of describing the dynamical character of the inhabitants' life, just as in Venice's views by Francesco Guidi. It does not come as a surprise to find images of Florence painted by this artist in the most important English collections, from the one of Kink George III who in 1764 purchased three of them, today in Windsor in the Royal Collection .
His views of Piazza della Signoria that we know of share the same point of observation. The framings are taken from what today is Via delle Farine, at the time extension of the north side of the square along Palazzo degli Uguccioni. We know as many as five paintings built following this prospective: the most famous one is in Plymouth's Museum and Art Gallery , a second one was displayed in Edmondo di Robilant and Marco Voena's stand at the last Biennale dell'Antiquariato (Antique Fair) in Palazzo Corsini in Florence , the third, that we know from photographies, was part of the Count Ilchester's collection and it was destroyed during the bombing of Kensington's Holland House in September 1940 ; the fourth, until 1957 in Dublin's Municipal Gallery , was auctioned in London in 2006 ; lastly, the fifth, once in Brodie's collection in Chicago, was auctioned in New York in 1986 (unfortunately there is no photographic proof of a sixth view of the Piazza by Patch, destroyed in Southampton's bombing in December 1940). In the five paintings featuring the same architectural layout, the various disposition of the figures is what creates different subjects: in the canvas in Plymouth (and according to Watson also in the one once in Southampton ) the painter represents on the foreground a puppet's theatre, followed enthusiastically by a numerous audience. In Voena's canvas, as in those once in Holland House and Dublin, a scene form the Commedia dell'Arte with masked actors. Lastly, the painting once in Chicago features in the middle a carriage. In all of the canvasses there are soldiers wearing the Habsburg uniform; yet, they appear to be confined in the upper right part of the composition and they do not interfere with the theatre representation in the centre. Therefore our drawing represents another variation: what is proposed here is not a scenic representation involving the lower class at the entrance of the square, yet a military parade with the figures that, instead of being thrown on the foreground are gradually displayed on the depth along the whole length of the prospective. Nevertheless, as it clearly appears from the superposition of the various techniques, the figures have been added by the painter in a second moment, overlapping the composition as we can clearly see on the right with the banners' shapes that do not hide the palace and the shed at the back. It is therefore a two-time composition, following what was a widely used practice by Patch and more in general by landscape painters. Probably the artist drew live the square adding later in study the figures. This hypothesis is validated by some details, revealing differences between our drawing and the finished works also in the architectonic description. First of all, in the drawing Palazzo Uguccioni's profile on the foreground cuts the back addition of Palazzo Vecchio, completely hiding the Tribunale della Mercanzia (as it happens in the reality from the point of observation chosen by Patch) that instead appears (slightly or a larger part of it) in all of the painted versions. Plus, the Loggia dei Lanzi does not close the composition's depth that instead continues describing the left side of the Uffizi's corridor. In the paintings the corridor is pushed towards the observer with an estrangement effect, almost as if the Loggia della Signoria was not at the beginning but in front of the corridor itself.
The analysis of these differences brings us to an easy solution: allegedly Patch made hasty live studies of the buildings. Later he added to the drawing the human figures; then, to finish the paintings, he unified the different studies' prospectives dilating the spaces beyond nature and creating true postcard-souvenirs, with the detailed exhibition of monuments and buildings that in reality would not be visible from the point of observation. It is not by accident that in Plymouth's and Voena's paintings the definition of the statues is really precise, while in this quick sketch, with the exception of Cosimo's equestrian monument, they are traced with few pen strokes.
This kind of studies, although we do not have them, must have been quite frequent in the painter's workshop; he surely used to study the variations of the subject described before starting to paint them on the canvas. Therefore our drawing is an important document from a great artist, a strong illustrator of Florence's vitality in the second half of the Eighteenth century.
1 - Bibliography on the painter's activity is quite considerable. Here are only the last contributes: A. M. D'Amelio, Thomas Patch caricaturista: le due serie di incisioni fiorentine nel Museo di Roma, in "Bollettino dei Musei Comunali di Roma", 20, 2006, pp. 41-76; Un inglese in Oltrarno: omaggio a Thomas Patch, a cura di F. Navarro, catalogue of the exhibition (Firenze), Livorno 2007; G. Coco, I ritratti dei "Grand Tourists" nei disegni e nelle incisioni di Thomas Patch, in "Proporzioni", 9/10, 2010, pp. 125-144, tavv. 161-185; H. Belsey, Reading the caricature groups of Thomas Patch, in "The Burlington Magazine", 153, 2011, pp. 229-231. 2 - L. Lagrange, Les Vernet: Joseph Vernet et la peinture au XVIIIe siècle, avec le texte des Livres de raison et un grand nombre de documentes inèdits, Paris 1864, p. 438. 3 - H. Belsey, voce Patch, Thomas, in Oxford Dictionary of National Biografy, 42, Oxford 2004, pp. 997-998. 4 - G. Coco, Horace Mann: "L'idolo di Firenze, ricco, amabile, appassionato d'arte e dotato di ottimo gusto". Ritratto di un conoscitore e mercante d'arte nella Firenze dei Lorena, in "Studi di storia dell'arte", 21, 2010, pp. 242-243 (pp. 235-246). 5 - E. Pellegrini, Thomas Patch, in La pittura di paesaggio in Italia. Il Settecento, a cura di E. Calbi e A. Ottani Cavina, Milano 2005, pp. 278-279. 6 - M. Chiarini, in Firenze e la sua immagine: cinque secoli di vedutismo, catalogue of the exhibition (Firenze), Venezia 1994, p. 163, n. 98. 7 - H. Belsey, Thomas Patch, Milano 2011, pp. 18-25. The painting has a pendant with a view of L'Arno e Ponte Santa Trinita. 8 - F. J. B. Watson, Thomas Patch (1725-1782), in "Walpole Society", XXVIII, 1939-40, pp. 39-40, n. 30. 9 - Paintings from Irish collections, catalogue of the exhibition, Dublin 1957, n. 140. 10 - Christie's, London, 8/6/2006, lot 96. 11 - Sotheby's, New York, 17-19/11/1986, lot 81. 12 - Watson cit. 1939-40, p. 40, n. 34.