Johan Zoffany

Johan Joseph Zoffany, RA (born Johannes Josephus Zaufallij, 13 March 1733[1] – 11 November 1810) was a German neoclassical painter, active mainly in England, Italy and India. His works appear in many prominent British collections such as the National Gallery, London, the Tate Gallery and in the Royal Collection, as well as institutions in Europe, India, the United States and Australia. His name is sometimes spelled Zoffani or Zauffelij (on his grave, it is spelled Zoffanij).

Johan Zoffany
Johan Zoffany - Self-portrait as David with the head of Goliath - Google Art Project
Self-portrait as David with the head of Goliath, c.  1756, National Gallery of Victoria, Australia
Johannes Josephus Zaufallij

13 March 1733
Died11 November 1810 (aged 77)


Strand on the Green, Chiswick, London, England -blue plaque for Johann Zoffany-31Aug2010
Johan Zoffany's former house at Strand-on-the-Green, London

Of noble Hungarian and Bohemian origin, Johan Zoffany was born near Frankfurt on 13 March 1733, the son of a cabinet maker and architect in the court of Alexander Ferdinand, 3rd Prince of Thurn and Taxis[2]. He undertook an initial period of study in a sculptor's workshop in Ellwangen in the 1740s (possibly at the workshop of sculptor Melchior Paulus) and later at Regensburg with the artist Martin Speer. In 1750, he travelled to Rome, entering the studio of Agostino Masucci. In autumn 1760 he arrived in England, initially finding work with the clockmaker Stephen Rimbault (Zoffany's fine portrait of whom is now in the Tate Gallery), painting vignettes for his clocks.

By 1764 he was enjoying the patronage of the royal family, King George III and Queen Charlotte, for his charmingly informal scenes such as Queen Charlotte and Her Two Eldest Children (1765),[3] in which the queen is shown at her toilette, with her eldest children, inside Buckingham House, and another, outdoors, with her children and her brothers.[4] He also was popular with the Austrian Imperial family and in 1776 was created "Baron" by the Empress Maria Theresa.

Johan Zoffany - Tribuna of the Uffizi - Google Art Project
The Tribuna of the Uffizi, by Johan Zoffany, 1772-8, Royal Collection, Windsor

Johan Zoffany was a Freemason and was initiated into the Craft on 19 December 1763 at The Old King's Lodge No 28.[5]

A founding member of the new Royal Academy in 1768, Zoffany enjoyed great popularity for his society and theatrical portraits, painting many prominent actors and actresses, in particular David Garrick, the most famous actor of his day – Garrick as Hamlet and Garrick as King Lear – often in costume. He was a master of what has been called the "theatrical conversation piece", a sub-set of the "conversation piece" genre that arose with the middle classes in the 18th century. (The conversation piece – or conversazione – was a relatively small, though not necessarily inexpensive, informal group portrait, often of a family group or a circle of friends. This genre developed in the Netherlands and France and became popular in Britain from about 1720.) Zoffany has been described by one critic as "the real creator and master of this genre".[6]

In the later part of his life, Zoffany was especially known for producing huge paintings with large casts of people and works of art, all readily recognizable by their contemporaries. In paintings like The Tribuna of the Uffizi he carried this fidelity to an extreme degree: the Tribuna was already displayed in the typically cluttered 18th-century manner (i.e. with many objects hanging in a small area, stacked many paintings high on the wall), but Zoffany added to the sense of clutter by having other works brought into the small octagonal gallery space from other parts of the Uffizi.

Zoffany spent the years 1783 to early 1789 in India[7], where he painted portraits including the Governor-General of Bengal, Warren Hastings, and the Nawab Wazir of Oudh, Asaf-ud-Daula[8]; an altarpiece of the Last Supper (1787) for St John's Church of England, Calcutta; and a vibrant history painting, Colonel Mordaunt's Cock Fight (1784–86) (Tate), described by historian Maya Jasanoff as ‘easily the liveliest illustration of early colonial India’. In the usual way, he sired several children by an Indian mistress, or ‘uppa-patni’.[9] Returning to England, he was shipwrecked off the Andaman Islands. The survivors held a lottery in which the loser (a sailor) was eaten. William Dalrymple describes Zoffany as having been "the first and last Royal Academician to have become a cannibal".[10]

Around the age of 27, Zoffany married the daughter of a court official in Würzburg. She accompanied him to London, but returned to Germany within a decade or so. Zoffany left for Florence in 1772, followed by young Mary Thomas, the daughter of a London glovemaker, who was carrying his first child. Whether they married in Europe is uncertain, though Zoffany's portrait, Mary Thomas, the Artist’s second wife, c1781-82, shows her wearing a wedding ring.[11] Following the death of his first wife in 1805, Zoffany married ‘Mary Thomas … Spinster’ in accordance with Church of England rites.

Zoffany and Mary Thomas had five children, including a son who died tragically in infancy, and four daughters. Their second daughter, Cecilia (1779–1830) was involved in a well-publicised child custody case in Guernsey in 1825.[12] Zoffany died at his home at Strand-on-the-Green on 11 November 1810. He is buried in the churchyard of St Anne's Church, Kew. The painters Thomas Gainsborough and Joshua Kirby are coincidentally buried nearby.

Self-portrait (with Hourglass and Skull) by Johann Zoffany
Self-portrait, c. 1776

Critical legacy

Despite the high-profile the artist enjoyed in his day, as court painter in London and Vienna, Zoffany has, until very recently, been curiously overlooked by art historical literature. In 1920, Lady Victoria Manners and Dr. G. C. Williamson published John Zoffany, R.A., his life and works. 1735–1810 – the first in-depth study of the artist and his work, privately printed, presumably at some cost (with 330pp, numerous black/white and a few colour plates), in a limited edition of 500 copies.

In 1966, Oliver Millar published Zoffany and his Tribuna – the expanded and illustrated notes of a lecture given at the Courtauld in 1964, on Zoffany's celebrated Uffizi group-portrait now in the Royal Collection.[13]

This was followed by Johan Zoffany, 1733–1810, Mary Webster's short but authoritative illustrated guide for the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, London (14 January to 27 March 1977). In December 2009, Penelope Treadwell published the first full biography, Johan Zoffany: Artist and Adventurer, Paul Holberton Publishing.[14]

This biography traces Zoffany's footsteps, from his youth in Germany, through his first years in London – working for clockmaker Stephen Rimbault – to his growing success as society and theatrical portraitist and founder-member of the Royal Academy, and following him on his Grand Tour and sojourn in India. Illustrated in full colour with more than 250 works by Zoffany and his peers, many of which are in private collections, Treadwell's biography provides a timely reassessment of the artist's life and work.[15]

In 2011 Mary Webster published her long-awaited and splendidly produced monograph on the artist: Johan Zoffany 1733–1810 (Yale University Press). In 2011–12 the Yale Center for British Art and the Royal Academy, London, showed an exhibition Johan Zoffany, RA: Society Observed, curated by Martin Postle, with Gillian Forrester and MaryAnne Stevens, with a catalogue of the same name, edited by Martin Postle and including much original research.[16] For a review of this and Mary Webster's biography, see Edward Chaney, "Intentional Phallacies", The Art Newspaper, no. 234, April 2012, p. 71.

A 2014 book by David Wilson describes Zoffany's relationship with Robert Sayer (1725–94). A leading publisher and seller of prints, maps and maritime charts in Georgian Britain, based in Fleet Street, London, Sayer organised the engraving of paintings by some leading artists of the day, most importantly Zoffany, and sold prints from the engravings. In this way he helped to secure Zoffany's international reputation. Sayer and the artist became longstanding friends as well as business associates. In 1781 Zoffany painted Robert Sayer in an important ‘conversation piece’. The Sayer Family of Richmond depicts Robert Sayer, his son, James, from his first marriage, and his second wife, Alice Longfield (née Tilson).

Behind the family group is the substantial villa on Richmond Hill overlooking the River Thames, built for Sayer between 1777 and 1780 to the designs of William Eves, a little known architect and property developer. On Sayer's death in 1794 the house was to become the residence of a future king of Great Britain.[17]

In recent decades, Zoffany's paintings have provoked significant controversy. Mary Webster's monumental study in 2011, while based on extensive research, has sometimes been seen as austere.[18][19] Other scholars have drawn attention to the artist's propensity for wry observations, risqué allusions and double meanings, so that many of his paintings conceal as much as they reveal.[20][21][22][23][24][25]

In literature and media

Zoffani, Johann - Charles Towneley in his Sculpture Gallery - 1782
Charles Towneley in his Sculpture Gallery, by Zoffany, 1782

In the comic opera The Pirates of Penzance, by Gilbert and Sullivan, the Major-General brags of being able to distinguish works by Raphael from works by Gerard Dou and Zoffany.

A scene in Stanley Kubrick’s film Barry Lyndon (1975) is said to have been inspired by Zoffany’s Tribuna of the Uffizi[26]


Tomb of Johan Zoffany
Johan Zoffany's tomb in the churchyard of St Anne's Church, Kew
Zoffany-Garrick in Provoked Wife

David Garrick in Vanbrugh's Provoked Wife, Theatre Royal, Drury Lane 1763

David Garrick by Johann Zoffany

David Garrick by Johann Zoffany, (1763)

Zoffany, Johann - Portrait of Ann Brown in the Role of Miranda - c. 1770

Portrait of Ann Brown in the Role of Miranda (c. 1770)

George Nassau Clavering, 3rd Earl of Cowper (1738-1789) by Studio of Johann Zoffany

George Nassau Clavering, 3rd Earl of Cowper (1738-1789)

King George III of England by Johann Zoffany

George III 1771

John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich by Johann Zoffany

John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich, best known as inventor of the sandwich.

Zoffany - Queen Charlotte, 1771, Royal Collection

Queen Charlotte, c. 1780

Johann Zoffany 007

Francis I, Holy Roman Emperor

Johann Zoffany 004

Archduchess Maria Christina, Duchess of Teschen, (1742-1798), called "Mimi", 1776

Johan Joseph Zoffany - David Garrick and his wife by his Temple to Shakespeare, Hampton - Google Art Project

David Garrick and his Wife by his Temple to Shakespeare at Hampton (c. 1762)

Johann Zoffany - 'The Garden at Hampton House, with Mr and Mrs David Garrick taking tea'

The Garden at Hampton House, with Mr and Mrs David Garrick taking tea, 1763

Charlott buckingham house1765

Queen Charlotte with her Two Eldest Sons (1765)

Johan Zoffany - The Family of Sir William Young - Google Art Project

The Family of Sir William Young (circa 1768)

Johan Joseph Zoffany - The Drummond Family - Google Art Project

The Drummond Family, 1769

The Portraits of the Academicians of the Royal Academy, 1771-72, oil on canvas, The Royal Collection by Johan Zoffany

The Portraits of the Academicians of the Royal Academy (1771–72)

The Sharp Family by Johann Zoffany

The Sharp Family (c. 1780)


Three Sons of the Earl of Bute

Zoffany-Lalbagh Fort

Lalbagh Fort


  1. ^ "The French Revolution as Blasphemy: Johan Zoffany's Paintings ..." Retrieved 15 April 2017.
  2. ^ Mary Webster, ‘Zoffany, Johan Joseph (1733–1810)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, May 2011. Retrieved 16 Nov 2018
  3. ^ Illustration
  4. ^ Illustration
  5. ^ Penelope Treadwell, Johan Zoffany. Artist and adventurer, (London: Paul Holberton Publishing, 2009) pages 127–133
  6. ^ Waterhouse, p. 315.
  7. ^ "Johann Zoffany, R.A." The Quarterly Review. 227: 39–58. January 1917.
  8. ^ "RCT – Johan Zoffany, Asaf ud-Daula, Nawab of Oudh, c.1784".
  9. ^ Martin Postle, Johan Zoffany, RA: Society Observed, (London: Royal Academy, 2012). p.41.
  10. ^ William Dalrymple, White Mughals, p. 209n; published 2002 by Penguin Books
  11. ^ Ashmolean Museum, Oxford
  12. ^ Stephen Foster, Zoffany’s daughter: love and treachery on a small island, Blue Ormer, 2017.
  13. ^ Oliver Millar, Zoffany and his Tribuna, London: Paul Mellon Foundation for British Art: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1966.)
  14. ^ Penelope Treadwell, Archived 2011-09-28 at the Wayback Machine
  15. ^ "Art books – London – Paul Holberton Publishing". Art books – London – Paul Holberton Publishing. Retrieved 6 April 2018.
  16. ^ Martin Postle, Johan Zoffany, RA: Society Observed, (London: Royal Academy, 2012).
  17. ^ David Wilson, Johan Zoffany RA and The Sayer Family of Richmond: A Masterpiece of Conversation, London, 2014.
  18. ^ Ronald Paulson, “Zoffany and his condoms”, Eighteenth-Century Life, vol. 37/2 (Spring 2013)
  19. ^ Kate Retford, review of Webster, "Johan Zoffany" (2011), in Journal for Eighteenth-Century Studies, vol.36, no.1 (2013).
  20. ^ William L.Pressly, “Genius Unveiled: The Self-Portraits of Johan Zoffany”, The Art Bulletin, 69/1 (1987)
  21. ^ Michael Watson, “Zoffany as punster and prankster: some comments on his David with the head of Goliath”, National Gallery of Victoria, Art Bulletin of Victoria, 36 (1996) accessed 16 Nov 2018
  22. ^ Ronald Paulson, “Zoffany and his condoms”
  23. ^ Postle, Johan Zoffany, including essays by Postle, Jasanoff, and Robin Simon
  24. ^ Edward Chaney, "Intentional Phallacies", The Art Newspaper, no. 234, April 2012, p. 71.
  25. ^ Foster, Zoffany’s daughter.
  26. ^ Anna Maria Ambrosini Massari, “Johan Zoffany (1733–1810): The Florentine tears and some discoveries, including a Madonna for the Grand Duke”, The British Art Journal, XVI/1, 2015.

External links

1756 in art

Events from the year 1756 in art.

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Death of Cook

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Most of these paintings seem to go back to an original by John Cleveley the Younger, painted in 1784, although other versions, like that of John Webber, stood model for later copies too. Such artworks were reproduced in paint and engraving over the course of modern world history. The much more famous reproductions, like the one at the Honolulu Museum of Art (allegedly based on the Cleveley version), often depicted Cook as a peacemaker trying to stop the fighting between his sailors and the native Hawaiians that they had challenged in combat.

However, in 2004, the original Cleveley painting was discovered in a private collection belonging to a family since 1851. Cleveley's brother was a member of Cook's crew, and the painting is said to concur with eyewitness accounts. The original depicted Cook involved in hand-to-hand combat with the native Hawaiians. The discovery of the original painting has not changed the way most historians view Cook's relationship with the Hawaiians, as during his last voyage, Cook was reported by his contemporaries to have become irrationally violent.The original watercolour painting, together with three others in a series by Cleveley, was put up for auction by Christie's auction house in London in 2004. The lot of four paintings sold for £318,850 (USD 572,655).

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Francis Milner Newton

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John Cuff (optician)

John Cuff (c. 1708 – c. 1772) was an important English scientific instrument maker, particularly of microscopes.He was apprenticed to the optical instrument maker James Mann. Cuff eventually set up his own establishment as a "SPECTACLE and MICROSCOPE Maker, At the sign of the Reflecting MICROSCOPE and SPECTACLES opposite Serjeant's Inn" "(1737-57) & Double Microscope, three Pairs of Golden Spectacles & Hadley's Quadrant opposite Salisbury Court (1757-8) both in Fleet St & Strand, all in London, England." In 1743, he advertised that he made and sold "Wholesale and Retale, all Manner of curious Optical INSTRUMENTS".Cuff failed to gain membership in the Royal Society, but at a Society meeting in the winter of 1738-1739, he encountered Johann Nathanael Lieberkühn, a German physician who was promoting two microscopes of his own invention. Cuff soon made improvements to the designs. In 1745, the Swiss naturalist Abraham Trembley visited London and asked him to design a microscope that would make it easier to observe aquatic creatures as they were moving about. Two years later, Cuff produced the "AQUATIC MICROSCOPE", "invented by him for the Examination of Water Animals."The naturalist Henry Baker complained to him about the shortcomings of Baker's Culpeper-type microscope: "Pulling the body of the Instrument up and down was likewise subject to Jerks, which caused a Difficulty in fixing it exactly at the Focus: there was also no good Contrivance for viewing opake Objects". Under Baker's direction, Cuff designed and produced an improved "Double Microscope" that quickly supplanted the Culpeper type and became much sought-after not only in England, but all over Europe. While superior to other microscopes of the time, optically it was no improvement, and like them it still "suffered from severe chromatic and spherical aberration."Unfortunately, Cuff was apparently not much of a businessman: despite Baker's support, he had to declare bankruptcy in 1750. In 1757, a Benjamin Martin opened a competing shop next door to Cuff's establishment on Fleet Street and drove him out of business the following year.According to the Royal Collection Trust, the German painter Johan Zoffany was commissioned by King George III, a purchaser of Cuff's microscopes, to depict him. However, doubts have been expressed whether the painting titled John Cuff actually is a portrayal of him, and it has also been known as The Lapidaries or Two Old Men.

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Mary Moser

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Richard Earlom

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Robert Sayer

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Roman Charity

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Sophia Baddeley

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The Art Gallery of Jan Gildemeester Jansz

The Art Gallery of Jan Gildemeester Jansz is a painting created by the Dutch painter Adriaan de Lelie in 1794-95. It is part of the collection of the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam, 63.7 cm wide and 85.7 cm high, executed in oil paint on panel. It depicts the art collector Jan Gildemeester Jansz (or Jan Jansz. Gildemeester) in the midst of his large collection of paintings, showing them to friends.

The painting was acquired by the Rijksmuseum in 1964 after being part of a French private collection.

The Clandestine Marriage

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Tribuna of the Uffizi (painting)

The Tribuna of the Uffizi (1772–1778) by Johan Zoffany is a painting of the north-east section of the Tribuna room in the Uffizi in Florence, Italy. The painting is part of the United Kingdom's Royal Collection.

Venus of Urbino

The Venus of Urbino (also known as Reclining Venus) is an oil painting by the Italian painter Titian, which seems to have been begun in 1532 or 1534, and was perhaps completed in 1534, but not sold until 1538. It depicts a nude young woman, traditionally identified with the goddess Venus, reclining on a couch or bed in the sumptuous surroundings of a Renaissance palace. It is now in the Galleria degli Uffizi in Florence.

The figure's pose is based on the Dresden Venus, traditionally attributed to Giorgione but which Titian at least completed. In this depiction, Titian has domesticated Venus by moving her to an indoor setting, engaging her with the viewer, and making her sensuality explicit. Devoid as it is of any classical or allegorical trappings – Venus displays none of the attributes of the goddess she is supposed to represent – the painting is sensual and unapologetically erotic.

Interpretations of the painting fall into two groups. Both agree that the painting has a powerful erotic charge, but beyond that it is seen either as a portrait of a courtesan, perhaps Zaffetta, or as a painting celebrating the marriage of its first owner (who according to some may not have commissioned it). This disagreement forms part of a wider debate on the meaning of the mainly Venetian tradition of the reclining female nude, which Titian had created, or helped to create, some 25 years before with the Dresden Venus of around 1510-11. For Charles Hope, "It has yet to be shown that the most famous example of this genre, Titian's Venus of Urbino, is anything other than a representation of a beautiful nude woman on a bed, devoid of classical or even allegorical content." Even the indefatigable finder of allegories drawing on Renaissance Neoplatonism, Edgar Wind, had to admit that in this case "an undisguised hedonism had at last dispelled the Platonic metaphors".


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