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Johan Zoffany

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

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. He undertook an initial period of study in a sculptor's workshop in Ellwangen during the 1740s, possibly the shop of Melchior Paulus, and later at Regensburg with the artist Martin Speer [de].

In 1750, he travelled to Rome, entering the studio of Agostino Masucci. In the autumn of 1760, he arrived in England and initially found work with the clockmaker Stephen Rimbault, painting decorative designs for his clocks.

By 1764, Zoffany was enjoying the patronage of King George III and Queen Charlotte for his charmingly informal scenes such as Queen Charlotte and Her Two Eldest Children (1765), in which the queen is shown at her toilette inside Buckingham House. He was also popular with the Austrian imperial family and was created a baron of the Holy Roman Empire in 1776 by Empress Maria Theresa.

A founding member of the new Royal Academy in 1768, Zoffany enjoyed great popularity for his society and theatrical portraits. He painted many prominent actors and actresses, in particular David Garrick, the most famous actor of his day, often in costume  – Garrick as Hamlet and Garrick as King Lear.

Zoffany 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 it became popular in Britain from about 1720.) Zoffany has been described by one critic as "the real creator and master of this genre".

He painted a number of 'conversation pieces' featuring a violoncello – the Cowper-Gore family, Sharp family, Morse and Cator family, and the family of Sir William Young. Around 1780, he painted a portrait of the octogenarian professional cellist and composer Giacomo Cervetto.

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 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.

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Johan Zoffany Artworks
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