Johann Zoffany
German painter and engraver



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Johann Zoffany
German painter and engraver

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Johann Zoffany is probably the only cannibal bigamist ever to paint the Queen of England. 


This German-born artist and adventurer has been described accurately as “The first and last Royal Academician to become a cannibal,” favorably as the “Jane Austen of English Painting,” and critically as “a thoroughly bad painter.”  But we can be sure of one thing…the guy knew how to have a good time.



At the age of 13, Zoffany walked solo from Germany to Rome to study with the masters.  There he refined his technical skills and partied with the Eternal City’s artistic playboys.  Returning to Germany, he married an innkeeper’s daughter with a dowry big enough to book his passage to Britain.  She went packing back to Germany when it became clear Zoffany had no intention of keeping his breeches buckled.



Zoffany’s teenaged mistress may have had something to do with this realization.  Though he hadn’t officially divorced, Zoffany openly declared the girl his wife and lived with her in common-law marriage (or as the Catholic Church likes to call it, “Sin!”).  In England, he got commissions to paint the likes of Queen Charlotte and London theatrical stars, but “serious” painters like Joshua Reynolds pooh-poohed his coldly realistic technique.  As his work went out of fashion, Zoffany decided to get out of town.



When his hopes of becoming the expedition painter on Captain Cook’s voyage to the South Seas didn’t pan out, Zoffany set sail for India.  Wife #2 stayed at home of course, which gave him the perfect opportunity to knock up his Indian mistress with a brood of bastards.  He was also reportedly “rolling in gold dust” from painting wealthy colonials and Indian Aristocrats. 



Zoffany loved a good argument, and painted naughty caricatures of people he disliked or disagreed with.  During his India period, he painted an Indian Prince (who never had sex with any of his 500 wives) with a raging erection as he watches a cockfight with his gay boyfriend.  He also painted a parody of Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper, featuring members of the Colonial elite, including a very pretty British magistrate (and known transvestite) in a blatantly homoerotic pose with Jesus. Scandalous!



On his return trip to England Zoffany was shipwrecked.  He and fellow survivors cast lots to see who got to be dinner.  An unlucky sailor drew the short straw, so we can say in all seriousness that Johann Zoffany once tasted seaman.



Whether or not he was the Jane Austen of British Art or a thoroughly bad painter, we at Sartle are eternally grateful to Johann Zoffany for almost certainly being the only artist in history to juggle wives, eat a dude, paint a queen, a boner and Jesus Christ’s boy-toy.  Move over Andres Serrano…Piss Christ ain’t got nothin’ on this guy.


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Here is what Wikipedia says about Johan Zoffany

Johan Joseph Zoffany, RA (born Johannes Josephus Zaufallij, 13 March 1733 – 11 November 1810) was a German neoclassical painter, active mainly in England. His works appear in many prominent British collections such as the National Gallery, London, the Tate Gallery and in the Royal Collection. 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 in Frankfurt on 13 March 1733. 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), 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. He also was popular with the Austrian Imperial family and in 1776 was created "Baron" by the Empress Maria Theresa.

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

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".

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 lived in Lucknow for a time; during his return 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".

Though Zoffany made several visits to continental Europe and India and painted Asaf-ud-Daula several times, 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. The painters Thomas Gainsborough and Joshua Kirby are coincidentally buried nearby.

He painted a Last Supper for St. John's Church, the first Anglican cathedral of Calcutta, during his visit to the de facto capital of British India.

Check out the full Wikipedia article about Johan Zoffany.