When Art Imitates Art

German neoclassical painter Johan Joseph Zoffany (aka Johannes Josephus Zaufallij, Zoffani or Zauffelij) was born in the Bohemian town of Frankfurt on 13 March 1733.

  • He undertook 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.
  • By 1750, he had travelled to Rome, entering the studio of Agostino Masucci.
  • In autumn 1760, he arrived in England, initially finding work with the clock-maker Stephen Rimbault, painting vignettes for his clocks.

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 from that period. In the later part of his life, Zoffany produced huge paintings with large casts of people and works of art all readily recognizable by their contemporaries.

Zoffany lived in Lucknow for a time; but often travelled to Europe and even to India. During his return to England, he was shipwrecked off the Andaman Islands. As one of the survivors, the group held a lottery in which the loser was eaten (in this case, one of the ship’s crew). It was later noted that Zoffany became “the first and last Royal Academician to have become a cannibal“.

  • In paintings like The Tribuna of the Uffizi (see both examples) Zoffany displayed art in the cluttered 18th-century manner (i.e. with many objects hanging in a small area stacked  on the wall), however in this example, the clutter includes other works brought into the small octagonal gallery space from various parts of the Uffizi Gallery.

Though Zoffany made several visits to continental Europe and India in his lifetime, he remained in Britain, dying at his home at Strand-on-the-Green on 11 November, 1810. He is buried in the churchyard of St Anne’s Church, Kew, with the painter Thomas Gainsborough buried nearby. His works appear in many prominent British National galleries including the National Gallery and in the Tate Gallery as well as being represented in the Royal Collection.

It might not be so ‘oftenly’ that we might see a Zoffany – however his art can; and most definitely does; imitate  art.

This entry was posted in Art, Artists A-Z, OilPainting, Paintings. Bookmark the permalink.

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