As Cecilia Powell first identified, Turner’s viewpoint for this distant view of Florence is Fiesole, a hill town approximately five miles north-east of the city.1 The place has long been popular with tourists because its elevated situation affords a panoramic vista across Florence and the valley of the Arno. One of the best vantage points is from the garden of the Convent of San Francesco to the west of the town. Turner’s sketch depicts the wall of the convent in the left-hand foreground, with the city, dominated by the dome of the Duomo (Cathedral), in the distance to the right. Winding towards Florence from the bottom right-hand corner of the composition is the River Mugnone, whilst to the east of the city on the left is the River Arno. Further sketches from Fiesole can be found on folios 31, 74–79 verso, 84 (D16543, D16608–D16619, D16627).
The same circular walled terrace from the Franciscan garden can also be seen in Turner’s earlier watercolour, Florence, from Fiesole circa 1818, formerly owned by John Ruskin (now private collection),2 and based upon a drawing by James Hakewill (1778–1843), Florence from Fiesole 1816 (Library of the British School at Rome).3 The image was engraved for Hakewill’s Picturesque Tour of Italy, 1819 (Tate, T06028),4 and accompanied with a written description of the view as ‘one of the richest and most varied assemblage of picturesque objects that can be found in Italy.’5 Turner repeated the prospect in a later vignette illustration for Rogers’s Italy (see Tate D27673; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 156), although as Powell has noted, the viewpoint and proportions of the watercolour are markedly different from the on-the-spot sketch.6
Powell 1984, p.429.
Andrew Wilton, The Life and Work of J.M.W. Turner, Fribourg 1979, no.715.
Tony Cubberley and Luke Herrmann, Twilight of the Grand Tour: A Catalogue of the drawings by James Hakewill in the British School at Rome Library, Rome 1992, no.2.40, p.157, reproduced.
W[illiam] G[eorge] Rawlinson, The Engraved Work of J.M.W. Turner, R.A., London 1908, vol.I, no.159.
James Hakewill, A Picturesque Tour of Italy, London 1820, text accompanying pl.58.
Powell 1983, p.7.