John Ruskin's art criticism inspired Victorian painters to look at medieval culture with new interest. The architecture and art collections of Florence were frequently cited in his books, especially 'Modern Painters' of 1846.
From the mid-1840s onwards, Ruskin made many drawings using pen and ink with a monochrome ink wash. Most drawing masters recommended this as a preliminary method for practice in handling light and shade, before attempting full watercolour. Ruskin was also to promote its use in his 1857 book 'The Elements of Drawings'.
This work is more than a study. It is an exercise in tonal contrasts, animated by lively and accurate pen drawing, expressing the kind of fidelity to nature which was to be a motivation to the Pre-Raphaelites.
Although previously known as 'View of Hills from Florence, with S. Felice below' and 'View near Florence,' it was identified as the 'View from San Miniato, Florence' by Jeanne Clegg and Paul Tucker ('Ruskin and Tuscany', exh. cat., p. 38). The scene shows the mid-nineteenth century view from the steps of the church of San Miato, looking north (away from San Felice and towards Monte Acuto). In the mid-1850s the church was restored and the surrounding hillside converted into a cemetary, thus obliterating Ruskin's viewpoint.