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Johan Zoffany | The Tribuna of the Uffizi, 1772-1778

In the summer of 1772 Zoffany set off for Florence with £300, letters of introduction and a commission from the Queen to paint highlights of the Grand Duke of Tuscany's collection shown within the Tribuna of the Uffizi Palace. The inspiration for the commission could have been the Cabinet of Paintings (Royal Collection, now given to Formentrou), then attributed to Gonzales Coques, which hung in Queen Charlotte's work-room at Kew.

Progress was slow and painful: according to Lord Winchilsea, one of the sitters, the task was:
"Really one of the Most laborious undertakings I ever saw. For he not only Copies a great Many Pictures and Statues and the Room andc. which is a great deal to do, but even the Frames and every the most minute thing Possible the small bronzes, the Table andc. to make it be a compleat and exact representation of the Room" (letter to Lady Charlotte Finch, 2 January 1773).
It is clear that Zoffany had planned from the outset to introduce real people, as Horace Mann, was already mentioning "small figures (portraits) as spectators" in August 1772 (Horace Mann letter to Horace Walpole, 25 August 1772). 
Fairly soon these spectators came to seem inappropriate: Mann wrote to Walpole on 23 August 1774:
"The one-eyed German, Zoffany [Mann here alludes to the artist"s squint], who was sent by the King to paint a perspective view of the Tribuna in the Gallery, has succeeded amazingly well in many parts of that and in many portraits he has made here. The former is too much crowded with (for the most part) uninteresting portraits of English travellers then here".
By the time the work was complete in 1777 and brought back to London in 1778 the error in judgement was generally acknowledged: Mann wrote again:

"I told him often of the impropriety of sticking so many figures in it, and pointed out to him, the Great Duke and Dutchess, one or two of their children, if he thought the variety more pictoresque, and Lord Cowper. . . If what he said is true, that the Queen sent him to Florence to do that picture, and gave him a large sum for his journey, the impropriety of crowding so many unknown figures was still greater" (letter to Horace Walpole, 10 December 1779).

The Royal family took the same view: Joseph Farington reported in 1804 that:
"The King spoke of Zoffany's picture of the Florentine Gallery painted for him, and expressed wonder at Zoffany having done so improper a thing as to introduce the portraits of Sir Horace Man - Patch, and others. - He sd. The Queen wd. not suffer the picture to be placed in any of her apartments". (Diary for 15 December 1804)

Zoffany was certainly paid handsomely for the work and to cover his stay in Florence (though the actual sum is disputed) however he never again worked for the Royal Family. The painting hung briefly at Kew Palace and is recorded, with The Academicians at the Upper Library at Buckingham House in 1819.

A "tribune" (tribuna in Italian) is the semicircular (or semi-polygonal) domed end of a basilican church; the Tribuna is the hexagonal domed room created in 1585-9 by Bernardo Buontalenti (1536-1608) at the Uffizi palace for the display of the masterpieces in the Medici collection. The idea of the space and the name was that the room (which originally had a single entrance) had the character of a chapel and formed a sort of Holy of Holies within the palace: indeed, it has remarkably similar shape and proportions to the much larger Capella dei Principi, Medicean funeral chapel begun in 1602, also with involvement of Buontalenti, next to the church of San Lorenzo in Florence. Both steep-domed hexagons are of course based on Brunelleschi's cupola of Florence cathedral, completed in 1436. It is perhaps not a coincidence that George III favourite architect, William Chambers, had recently created two octagonal temples to the Muses: the Great Room at the Society of Arts in 1759; and the Octagon, one of the four rooms housing the King's library at Buckingham House in 1766-1767. It is tempting to suggest that Zoffany's painting was intended for the over-mantel space visible in Stephanoff's watercolour (Royal Collection), where the match of real and painted architecture would have been perfect.

The Tribuna was presented in this period as Europe's most precious Wunderkammer, with a profusion of painting, sculpture, pietra dura and decorative arts, set against the already richly decorated surfaces of floor, walls and vault. In the words of Tobias Smollett (1721-71), "there is such a profusion of curiosities in this celebrated museum ... that the imagination is bewildered . . . a stranger of a visionary turn would be apt to fancy himself in a palace of the fairies, raised and adorned with the power of enchantment" (Travels through France and Italy, letter 28, 5 February 1765).
A comparison of Zoffany's view with the contemporary drawings of Giuseppe Magni (Gabinetto dei Disegni, Uffizi, Florence) reveals that Zoffany's is a substantially accurate record of the arrangement. 
There are two areas in which Zoffany has distorted or reinterpreted reality: he has adjusted the perspective of the interior; and he has taken liberties with the paintings he has chosen to include, often introducing works from the Pitti Palace or elsewhere in the Uffizi.

Zoffany's viewpoint is slightly behind the centre of the room: (the central octagon of the floor pattern appears in the foreground). His field of vision includes a little less then three of the eight sections of the octagon, which would mean an angle of around 90 degrees. If he had carried this perspective through to its logical conclusion he would only have caught two of the four major sculptural groups placed in front of each alternate wall, instead of the four visible here. 
Moreover, almost all the objects and figures within the room, especially those in the foreground, should appear significantly larger than they do here: clearly if he had followed a geometrically literal regime he would never have been able to fit in so much or to have made so many interesting and intelligible groups. Instead, he has treated the "floor-show" differently, adopting a perspective as if set in a cut-away model of the space, like a stage, and viewed from some way back in the auditorium. Evidently this aspect of the painting was also criticised: according again to Horace Mann "they found great fault in the perspective which, they say, is all wrong. I know that he was sensible of it himself, and tried to get assistance to correct it; but it was found impossible, and he carried it away as it was" (letter to Horace Walpole, 10 December 1779).

In order to understand Zoffany's perspective it is necessary to examine his other source of inspiration: the encyclopaedic paintings of Giovanni Paolo Panini (1692-1765). For example, Panini's Modern Rome of 1757 (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) has some perspective, of course, but overridden by a clamour of surface of surface detail - a brilliance of colour, light and touch, across the entire canvas. Zoffany achieves exactly this brilliance, this refusal to subordinate, this determination that the spaces between things are as eye-catching as the things themselves. He deliberately creates a world where nothing quite sits quietly behind anything else; everything pushes itself forward. As a result, the painting has the slight unreality of an advent calendar, but also the effect of a jewel cabinet that needs to be explored systematically in order to reveal all its treasures. 
This effect was, again, not universally appreciated: when the Tribuna was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1780, the Morning Post criticised "its want of keeping", that is, its harmony of colours; the Morning Chronicle wrote that "this accurate picture has the same effect on the spectator which the gallery itself has on first entering it; the multitude of excellencies contained in it, dissipate our ideas, and it requires some time to arrange them before we can coolly examine the merit of any individual piece".

The art displayed here and its arrangement (by Zoffany as well as the custodians of the Uffizi) clearly has the potential to provoke innumerable conversations: Zoffany seems to be more interested in suggesting a multitude of ideas than in providing a coherent programme. 
The Royal Academy catalogue of 1780 described the work as a "room in a gallery of Florence, called the Tribuna, in which the principal part is calculated to show the different styles of the several masters". 
Zoffany not only imitates their styles, he arranges them so that the relationships between them can be appreciated. The great tradition of painting is dominated by "the divine" Raphael, his figure of St John the Baptist "pointing upwards" as if to suggest a heavenly source of inspiration.
The same tradition is maintained through the reverend Bolognese school of Annibale Carracci (1560-1609) and Guido Reni (1575-1640), and the occasional Flemish artist such as Rubens
Zoffany invites us to play the familiar game of comparing painting and sculpture, ancient and modern: who is the most beautiful woman of all? Clearly Venus, but is it the modern painted Venus of Urbino or the antique sculpted Medici Venus? 
There is also some nationalism present: the Etruscan remains stress them importance of Tuscany; the Holbein portrait tries to bring England into the story.
For the last two hundred years Zoffany's Tribuna has been hung near to his Academicians (Royal Collection), and there is evidence that they were originally conceived as a pair. They make a very effective contrast between creating and appreciating art; between back and front of house; the former with the dark, thinly painted character of a work-in-progress, the latter with the highest and more precious finish. Only two vignettes within the Tribuna tell of the labour of art: the easel, palette, knife, brushes and maul-stick at the right margin and the hammer, pliers and pile of nails in the centre. Zoffany evidently feels that all these grand tourists should learn how to stretch a canvas. | Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

List of the paintings by wall, from top row, left to right
Left wall
  • Annibale Carracci, Venus with a Satyr and Cupids (Uffizi, Florence);
  • Guido Reni, Charity (Palatine Gallery, Pitti Palace, Florence);
  • Raphael, Madonna della seggiola (Palatine Gallery, Pitti Palace, Florence);
  • Correggio, Madonna and Child (Uffizi, Florence);
  • Justus Sustermans, Portrait of Galileo Galilei (Uffizi, Florence);
  • Unreadable painting (left of the Cupid and Psyche statue).
Central wall
  • Titian's workshop, Madonna and Child with Saint Catherine (Uffizi, Florence);
  • Raphael and workshop, St John the Baptist (Uffizi, Florence);
  • Guido Reni, Madonna (private collection?);
  • Raphael, Madonna del cardellino (Uffizi, Florence);
  • Rubens, The Consequences of War (Palatine Gallery, Pitti Palace, Florence);
  • Franciabigio (formerly attributed to Raphael), Madonna del Pozzo (Uffizi, Florence);
  • Unrecognizable painting (between the legs of the Satyr);
  • Hans Holbein, Portrait of Sir Richard Southwell (Uffizi, Florence);
  • Raphael, Portrait of Perugino (Uffizi, Florence);
  • Perugino's workshop (Niccolò Soggi?), Madonna with Child, Saint Elizabeth and Saint John (Uffizi, Florence, still in the Tribuna).
Right wall
  • Guido Reni, Cleopatra (Palatine Gallery, Pitti Palace, Florence);
  • Rubens, Four Philosophers (Palatine Gallery, Pitti Palace, Florence);
  • Raphael, Pope Leo X with Cardinals Giulio de' Medici and Luigi de' Rossi (Uffizi, Florence);
  • Pietro da Cortona, Abraham and Hagarìì (Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna);
  • Bartolomeo Manfredi, Tribute to Caesar (Uffizi, Florence);
  • Cristofano Allori, Hospitality of Saint Julian (Palatine Gallery, Pitti Palace, Florence);
  • Unrecognizable painting (right of the Wrestlers);
  • Unrecognizable painting (Charity?);
  • Unrecognizable painting (behind the Venus);
  • Unrecognizable painting (you can only see a golden frame behind the man in red at the very right).
Lower part
  • Raphael, Niccolini-Cowper Madonna (National Gallery of Art, Washington). This painting was owned by Zoffany at the moment: this explains its prominence;
  • Guercino's workshop, Samian Sibyl (Uffizi, Florence);
  • Titian, Venus of Urbino (Uffizi, Florence).
Sculptures and other

Today Medici's Ancient Roman statues are mostly in the main corridors of the Uffizi Gallery, except those which are still in the Tribuna, and except the smaller busts and statuettes (some antique, some pseudo-antique), owned by the National Archaeological Museum and permanently displayed at Villa Corsini a Castello, near Florence. Many of those painted by Zoffany are still to be identified, thou. Other antiquities (Etruscan, Egyptian, Greek) are mostly in the National Archaeological Museum. Some very few Renaissance pieces from the Tribuna are now in the Bargello Museum.

From left:
  • Bust of a woman (?);
  • Bust of a Roman emperor (?);
  • Bust of Heracles (?);
  • Bust of a man (?);
  • Ancient Roman bust of a Julio-Claudian dynasty (Villa Corsini a Castello, Florence);
  • Bust of Demetra (?);
  • Bust of a woman (?);
  • Ancient Roman art, Artemis of Ephesus, 2nd century AD (Villa Corsini a Castello, Florence);
  • Bust of a man in alabaster (?);
  • Seated man statuette (?);
  • Bronze seated Heracles (?);
  • Bust of a boy (?);
  • Bust of a boy (?);
  • Bust of a man (?);
  • Bust of Zeus (?);
  • Bronze statuette (?);
  • Bust of a man (?);
  • Cupid (?);
  • Bronze statuette of Heracles (?);
  • Bust of a man (?);
  • Relief of a horse (?);
  • Bust of a man (?);
  • Bertoldo di Giovanni, Putto playing the lute (Bargello, Florence);
  • Pan (?);
  • Seated Goddess (?);
  • Bust of a boy (?);
  • Ancient Roman art, Heracles and the Nemean Lion (Uffizi, Florence);
  • Seated woam (?);
  • Bust of Bacchus (?).
  • Ancient Roman art, Cupid and Psyche (Uffizi, Florence);
  • Ancient Roman art, Dancing Faun (Uffizi, Florence, still in the Tribuna);
  • Jacopo Antelli (Monicca) and Jacopo Ligozzi, Octagonal table with Pietre Dure mosaics (Uffizi, Florence, still in the Tribuna);
  • Ancient Roman art, Baby Hercules strangling two serpents (Uffizi, Florence, still in the Tribuna);
  • Ancient Roman art, The Two Wrestlers (Uffizi, Florence, still in the Tribuna);
  • Cleomenes, Medici Venus (Uffizi, Florence, still in the Tribuna).
  • Baltimore Painter, Apulian krater with Amazonomachy (National Archaeological Museum, Florence);
  • Etruscan bronze elm with "button" on top, from Cannae (National Archaeological Museum, Florence);
  • Ancient Roman art, Arrotino (Uffizi, Florence, still in the Tribuna);
  • Etruscan (with 17th-century implements), Chimera of Arezzo (National Archaeological Museum, Florence);
  • Severo Calzetta da Ravenna, Lucerna in the shape of a Twisting Man (Bargello, Florence);
  • Late antique, Ardaburio's Plate (National Archaeological Museum, Florence);
  • Bust of a man (?);
  • Florentine pseudo-antique art, second half of the 16th century, Bronze head of Antinous (National Archaeological Museum, Florence);
  • Bronze lucerna (?);
  • Etruscan amphora in bucchero (National Archaeological Museum, Florence?);
  • Etruscan oinochoe in bucchero (National Archaeological Museum, Florence?);
  • Etruscan situla in bucchero (National Archaeological Museum, Florence?);
  • Ancient Greek art, Livorno Torso (National Archaeological Museum, Florence);
  • Ancient Egyptian art, Cube statue of Ptahmose (National Archaeological Museum, Florence);
  • Etruscan funerary urn probably Volterra production (?) (under the Venus of Urbino) | Source: © Wikipedia

Zoffany, bello e sconosciuto

La Tribuna degli Uffizi di Johann Zoffany pubbicato qui accanto è un dipinto celebre e sorprendente, come altrettanto sorprendente (ma assai meno conosciuta) è stata la parabola artistica del suo autore, un vero protagonista - alla pari di Reynolds, Gainsborough, Batoni, Mengs, Füssli - della pittura della seconda metà del Settecento, eppure non altrettanto noto.
Nato vicino a Francoforte nel 1733 da una famiglia di origine ebraica, formatosi a Roma, ritornato in Germania e diventato pittore di corte di Clemens Wenceslaus, Grande Elettore di Treviri, non sappiamo ancora per quali motivi si trasferisse nel 1760 in Inghilterra, trasformando il più impegnativo e impronunciabile Johannes Josephus Zauffaly nel più semplice Johann Zoffany. Tra il 1772-1779 lo ritroviamo in Italia in una fase straordinaria di una multiforme carriera e poi nuovamente in Inghilterra, ma poco dopo, tra il 1783-1789 in India. 
Il resto della vita, passato nella casa di Strand-on-the-Green nei dintorni di Londra, dove morì nel 1810. 
La mostra organizzata dal Yale Center for British Art (specializzato negli studi sul Grand Tour) di New Haven, da cui è partita, e dalla Royal Academy di Londra, cui ora è approdata, rende finalmente giustizia, a molti anni dalla bella rassegna organizzata nel 1976 dalla National Portrait Gallery, a questo artista versatile che si cimentò in vari generi per poi specializzarsi nel ritratto, modulato però con una varietà e un'originalità che ha pochi riscontri non solo al suo tempo ma nell'intera storia della pittura. 
Non sappiamo molto della sua vita privata, perché nel 1830, durante il colera, i suoi discendenti bruciarono i disegni, le lettere e i documenti del pittore. 
È noto però il suo temperamento irrequieto, impulsivo, riflesso poi nelle scelte professionali, l'indole capricciosa che oscillava tra una forte sensualità e la malinconia, come dimostrano i suoi migliori autoritratti tutti conservati in Italia, al Museo dell'Accademia Etrusca di Cortona, agli Uffizi e alla Galleria Nazionale di Parma. Nel primo ci appare spavaldo e triste, mentre impugna la tavolozza e i pennelli come se fossero delle armi. 
Nel secondo il più impegnativo, si presenta fissando su chi guarda uno sguardo ironico mentre con la mano destra stringe un teschio e con l'altra solleva una clessidra, sopra cui appare il fatidico motto «Ars Longa. Vita brevis». Alle spalle una riduzione dello Scorticato di Houdon, presente nelle Accademie e negli studi di tutti gli artisti, rimanda allo studio dei segreti dell'anatomia umana. Nel terzo autoritratto non si presenta più nelle vesti eleganti, tutto impellicciato, come negli altri due, ma con uno sguardo velato da una malinconia struggente, coi capelli arruffati e in camicia, nell'atto di infilarsi la blusa per non sporcarsi. 
Gli inizi furono difficili. Sbarcato a Londra iniziò a ridotto a decorare quadranti di orologi e a lavorare come "drapery painter", pittore di tendaggi drappeggiati, nello studio di un ritrattista di successo Benjamin Wilson. La sua fortuna fu l'incontro con il popolarissimo attore David Garrick che - pur già rappresentato da Hogarth sulla scena del Riccardo III - si fece ritrarre da Zoffany in varie situazioni, sul palcoscenico dei suoi maggiori successi insieme agli altri attori della compagnia. 
Di qui, il passaggio ad altri ritratti di gruppo - quelli di famiglia, resi con una vitalità straodinaria - fu rapido e gli procurò il favore della corte e soprattutto della regina tedesca, Carlotta di Mecklenburg-Strelitz. 
Molti sono i dipinti prestati dalle collezioni reali come lo strardinario ritratto della regina, la cui immagine viene anche riflessa in uno specchio, insieme ai due figli in maschera, in una stanza della reggia resa con ogni dovizia di particolari. 
Da Giorgio III venne nel 1769 un prestigioso riconoscimento con la nomina a membro della Royal Academy, celebrata in un dipinto acquistato poi dal re, che è un fantastico ritratto corale dei trentacinque componenti dell'istituzione, rappresentati nelle attitudini più diverse nella sala dove, alla luce artificiale proveniente da un grande lampada centrale a molte fiamme, veniva studiato il nudo. 
Questo eccezionale tour de force era destinato a ripetersi altre volte. Prima con la celebre Tribuna degli Uffizi, per la cui esecuzione venne inviato nel 1772 in Italia dalla regina Carlotta. Vi sono rappresentati con una precisione impressionante ventidue membri della colonia inglese a Firenze, ventiquattro dipinti allora considerati i capolavori delle Gallerie, tra cui in primo piano la Venere di Urbino di Tiziano, sei sculture antiche tra cui l'acclamata Venere dei Medici, e una serie di tredici oggetti, tra cui la celebre Chimera etrusca, che testimoniavano la varietà enciclopedica di quel museo. Dopo, al ritorno in Inghilterra, con il ritratto della numerosa famiglia Sharp rappresentata sulle rive del Tamigi durante una gita musicale. 
Zoffany rappresenta gli strumenti dell'epoca con un'evidenza e una precisione che dimostrano la sua competenza in questo campo. Nonostante i successi ottenuti negli otto anni trascorsi in Italia, dove fu impegnato sempre come ritrattista dalla corte di Pietro Leopoldo d'Asburgo a Firenze e da quella dei Borbone a Parma, gli fu difficile riconquistare un posto adeguato sulla scena londinese, anche perché la Tribuna non piacque alla corte. Era morto Garrick, il suo grande protettore. Il suo spirito avventuroso gli suggerì allora di rimettersi in gioco in India dove dal 1783-1789 visse tra Calcutta e Lucknow, facendosi una nuova famiglia (alternativa a quella lasciata a Londra), e ricevendo numerose commissioni dove, in ritratti che sono delle scene di vita, come quello dove il colonnello Mordaunt insieme a una folla formata da etnie diverse assiste a un combattimento di galli, rinnovava profondamente la propria pittura. | © Fernando Mazzocca