Holy of Holies: The Tribuna of the Uffizi

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Today's "Feel Art Again" is a double-header. First up was a post on the German-English artist Johann Zoffany (1733-1810); now this post delves into his painting "The Tribuna of the Uffizi." Read both to get the full story on this talented artist.

In the summer of 1772, Johann Zoffany was sent by Queen Charlotte to Florence with £300 and a letter of introduction. He was to paint highlights of the Grand Duke of Tuscany's collection as they were displayed in the Uffizi Palace's Tribuna. The result: "The Tribuna of the Uffizi."

1. In Italian, tribuna refers to the semi-circular or semi-polygonal domed end of a basilica. The Tribuna at the Uffizi is an octagonal domed room that was intended as "a sort of Holy of Holies within the palace." Designed for Francesco I de'Medici in the late 1580s, the Tribuna is the display room for the most important of the Medici collection of antiquities and paintings.

2. Zoffany's painting may have been inspired by Jacob de Formentrou's "Cabinet of Paintings" (at the time attributed to Gonzales Coques), which hung in Queen Charlotte's workroom. "The Tribuna of the Uffizi" takes "Cabinet of Paintings" to the next level with almost twice as many paintings and people, plus the addition of sculptures.

3. Although Zoffany has been praised for his accurate reproduction of the Tribuna, he actually brought in art from elsewhere in the Medici collection, re-arranged works, and adjusted the perspective of the interior. Zoffany arranged the paintings and sculptures in his depiction of the Tribuna so that the stylistic, historical, and thematic relationships between artists could be appreciated. The perspective—which may not have been exactly intentional, but of which Zoffany was aware—is more like that of a cut-away model or a stage viewed from the back theater. The altered perspective enabled Zoffany to fit more of the works of art and the people, and to better group them.

4. The people interspersed throughout the room are art connoisseurs, diplomats, travelers, and Zoffany himself. (See the painting's silhouette key or zoom key for the name of each person.) The painting was said to be "too much crowded with (for the most part) uninteresting portraits of English travelers" by Horace Mann, who was himself depicted in the painting. Zoffany was warned of the "impropriety" of filling the Queen's painting with "a flock of travelling boys."

5. "The Tribuna of the Uffizi" serves as a gallery of sorts, but also as an advertisement. George, the 3rd Earl of Cowper, and Sir Horace Mann assisted Zoffany in gaining access to many of the works that were not normally displayed in the Tribuna. Zoffany thanked the men by painting their portraits into the scene. Cowper is shown viewing Raphael's "Niccolini-Cowper Madonna," which he had recently acquired and hoped to sell to George III. (Zoffany is shown holding the painting for Cowper.) Sources are unclear as to whether this product placement resulted in King George's acquisition of the painting.

6. Zoffany spent 5 years in Italy working on "The Tribuna of the Uffizi" and was paid well by Queen Charlotte, but the royal family wasn't exactly pleased with their final product. According to Joseph Farington, "The King"¦expressed wonder at Zoffany having done so improper a thing as to introduce the portraits of Sir Horace Mann"¦ & others." He also wrote that "The Queen wd. not suffer the picture to be placed in any of her apartments." Zoffany never again worked for the royal family.

A larger version of "The Tribuna of the Uffizi" is available here.

Fans should check out the collections of Zoffany's works in the National Portrait Gallery, the Royal Collection, the Norfolk Museums, and the Art Renewal Center; and his biography by Lady Victoria Manners and Dr. G.C. Williamson.

"Feel Art Again" usually appears three times a week. Looking for a particular artist? Visit our archive for a complete listing of all 250+ artists that have been featured. You can e-mail us at feelartagain@gmail.com with details of current exhibitions, for sources or further reading, or to suggest artists. Or you can head to our Facebook page, where you can do everything in one place.

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February 4, 2010 - 6:00am
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