fig. 1 
Johan Zoffany

In about 1750 the young Johan Zoffany1He was born Johann Joseph Zauffalӱ at Frankfurt-am-Main in 1733, the son of the Bohemian-born Franz Zauffalӱ, who was originally a cabinet-maker, but later became the court architect of the Prince von Thurn und Taxis. Most of our knowledge of Zoffany’s life until c.1761 is based on notes made by Joseph Farington (1747–1821) and published by Millar (O. Millar, Zoffany and His Tribuna, Studies in British Art, London, 1966, pp. 37–9). Some other variants of the artist’s surname are Zoffani, Zauffaly and Zauphaly. The final y usually had an umlaut and hence was really a ligature for ij (for the inscription ZOFFANIJ on a drawing, see M. Webster, Johan Zoffany 1733–1810 (exh. cat.), National Portrait Gallery, London, 1976, cat. no 134, repr.; the signature Johan Zoffanӱ is reproduced on the back cover). Horace Walpole regularly used the spelling Zoffanii in his letters. See also U. Hoff, European Paintings before 1800 in the National Gallery of Victoria, rev. edn, Melbourne, 1995, pp. 327–8. left Regensburg and his teacher of three years, Martin Speer, for Rome, where he studied under Agostino Masucci (1691–1758) Later Zoffany became a pupil of Anton Raphael Mengs (1728–1779), who had arrived in Rome in 1752 and continued living there until 1759. Mengs had begun teaching at the Accademia Capitolina in 1754, and during his time in Rome his house became a centre for German artists where they could socialise and in some cases even board; he also had a collection of casts, which his students used for exercises in drawing.2 Most of our knowledge of Mengs’s domestic arrangements comes from the letters of the scholar Johann Joachim Winckelmann (1717–1768). For Mengs and his ‘school’ in Rome, see T. Pelzel, Anton Raphael Mengs and Neoclassicism, New York, 1979, pp. 52–70, 173–82. The impressionable young Zoffany entered this milieu and apparently remained part of it until he returned to Germany in the late 1750s. In 1760 or 1761 he migrated to London, accompanied by his first wife, Maria Juliana Antonia, née Eiselein.3For short biographies of Zoffany, see Webster, pp. 8–16; U. Thieme & F. Becker, Allgemeines Lexikon der bildenden Künstler von der Antike bis zur Gegenwart, vol. XXXVI, Leipzig, 1947, pp. 544–6. 

In 1994 the National Gallery of Victoria acquired a painting from Zoffany’s Roman period, David with the head of Goliath, 1756 (fig. 1),4The picture was acquired from Richard L. Feigen and Co., New York, who had purchased it at auction (see Dessins et tableaux anciens (sale cat.), Groupe Gersaint, Pavilion Joséphine, Strasbourg, 17 November 1989, cat. no. 265, repr., as by Anton Raphael Mengs). The signature – 1756 I: Zauffalӱ inv et pinx – was discovered on the belt after the picture was cleaned in New York. which has recently been the subject of a study by Prof. W. L. Pressly.5W. L. Pressly, ‘Johan Zoffany as “David the Anointed One”’, Apollo, vol. CXLI, no. 397, March 1995, pp. 49–55. David is portrayed in the Melbourne picture as a youthful shepherd wearing a white loincloth hitched up by a leather belt, to which a bag made partly of sheepskin is attached at the rear. His sheepskin shepherd’s cap sits at a raffish angle, resembling a beret, while his cloak, also of sheepskin, but lined, passes over his left shoulder and billows in an imaginary wind behind him. He is in an attitude of contemplation, his right hand supporting his chin, and his elbow resting on the severed head of Goliath. The giant’s bearded head, positioned to show a profile, is supported by a flat piece of rock. David’s left forearm rests on the head, and his hand presents to the viewer a rounded stone, obviously the projectile that struck Goliath. A sling hangs down from David’s right thumb and rests against the giant’s face, filling the space between the head and the young man’s body. The staff is seen behind, propped up against David’s left arm. Both David and Goliath engage the viewer with their eyes.6Pressly raises another possibility: that Goliath is looking at the stone that felled him (Pressly, ‘Johan Zoffany as “David the Anointed One”’, p. 52) . 

When compared with many of Zoffany’s English paintings, this work demonstrates a surprisingly sophisticated sense of composition. It presents strong diagonals and parallel lines, while the sweeping curve formed by David’s left arm and the cloak is bisected by the thrusting diagonal of the torso. The floating drapery, which fills the space behind the David, is, of course, a typical baroque ploy to balance the composition. We can compare the example in the artist’s Venus Marina, 1760, at the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Bordeaux.7See Webster, cat. no. 6, repr. The stance of the David is unusual and, although, as we shall see below, there are some classical precursors, Zoffany’s signature, 1756 I[obannes]: Zauffalӱ inv[enit] et pinx[it], boasts that not only did he paint the picture, but the design was the product of his inventio

The image, however, remains consistent with the iconographical tradition associated with David and the head of Goliath, and as we shall see it is closer to the scriptures than were many of its predecessors.8It is perhaps worth noting that the versions of the Bible available to Zoffany would have been either the Vulgate or Luther’s translation. The motif of David as a nude or semi-nude adolescent appears at least as early as Donatello (1386–1466).9See Pressly, ‘Johan Zoffany as “David the Anointed One”’, p. 53. For Donatello’s David, see H. W. Janson, The Sculpture of Donatello, Princeton, 1963, pp. 77–86, pls 32b–35b. In 1 Samuel: 17, 42, David is referred to as an adulescens (Knabe in Luther’s translation). Donatello’s bronze, in the Bargello, Florence, was part of a visual tradition that could border on the homoerotic, and this in a way had biblical support. The Book of Samuel stresses David’s physical attractiveness several times,101 Samuel: 16, 12: Erat autem rufus et pulcher aspectu decoraque facie / Und er war bräunlicht, mil schönen Augen und guter Gestalt (cf. 1 Samuel: 17, 42). and in the background lurks the story of David and Jonathan.11For the beginning of the story of David and Jonathan, see 1 Samuel: 18, 1–5; see also F. Polleross, ‘Between Typology and Psychology: The Role of the Identification Portrait in Updating Old Testament Representations’, Artibus et Historiae, vol. 24, 1991, p. 109. But we must resist constructing a homoerotic meaning for every image that presents us with a soft-looking, half-draped youth; the post-Freudian viewer should consider such an interpretation only if there is external evidence, as in the case of Caravaggio. 

The biblical text makes no comment on David’s costume, but merely notes his staff, shepherd’s bag and sling (1 Samuel: 17, 40). These are all included by Zoffany. In most paintings of this subject, David’s clothing is anachronistic, and this work is no exception. However, Zoffany has cleverly chosen sheepskin, which is relatively timeless and also suitably rustic. A sheepskin cloak was also used by Orazio Gentileschi in his David in contemplation after the defeat of Goliath in the Galleria Spada, Rome.12See The Age of Caravaggio (exh. cat.), Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1985, cat. no. 42, repr. p. 153. Guido Reni’s David in the David with the head of Goliath, 1605–06, in the Louvre wears what is probably meant to be the skin of a lion or bear, no doubt a reference to David’s words in 1 Samuel: 17, 34, where he describes how he defended his father’s flock against wild animals.13ibid., cat. no. 51, repr. p. 175. Zoffany’s David wears a plain, flat cap, which, Pressly notes, is similar to that used by the artist in his Adoration of the shepherds, 1757, at the Mainfränkisches Museum, Würzburg.14Pressly, ‘Johan Zoffany as “David the Anointed One”’, p. 52, fig. 3. The effect in the Melbourne picture is so much more homely and realistic than in Reni’s painting, in which his David sports a cap with an ostentatious feather. In Guercino’s version of 1650 a similarly feathered hat hangs on the handle of the giant’s sword.15See D. Mahon, Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, Il Guercino 1591–1666, 2nd edn, [Bologna], 1991, no. 128, repr. p. 335. 

Zoffany has subdued the natural grotesqueness of the subject.16See Pressly, ‘Johan Zoffany as “David the Anointed One”’, pp. 50–2. It is not just that he has shown the hero in a contemplative disposition, for he was not alone in this. We cannot help but notice the absence of the sword and how the wound on the giant’s brow is ‘accidentally’ concealed by David’s elbow, so that there is only a suggestion of blood. It is the same with the flat rock supporting the head: a little bit of red below the beard, and the rest is in shadow. This discreetness contrasts with the vulgar effect of a painting by an imitator of Simon Vouet,17See B. Nicolson, The International Caravaggesque Movement, Oxford, 1979, p. 110, pl. 239 (cf. the engraving after Pordenone’s lost self-portrait as David (see Polleross, p. 106, fig. 28)). in which work the stone is embedded in the giant’s forehead in accordance with the text: et infixus est lapis in fronte eius (1 Samuel: 17, 49). 

Zoffany’s Goliath is far removed from the ogre of tradition and looks quite distinguished with his combed greying beard, aristocratic profile and almost emotionless face.18He is quite distant from Caravaggio’s self-portrait as Goliath in the David with the head of Goliath at the Galleria Borghese, Rome (see The Age of Caravaggio, cat. no. 97, repr. p. 339). With his rock support he rather reminds the viewer of an ancient portrait head mounted on a pedestal. Such a support had been part of the iconographic tradition for over a century and appears in the paintings by Reni and Guercino cited above. In the latter version, the stone is like an altar at which the young victor prays, while the head is presented as an offering. In Reni’s painting, the stone pillar is much higher and acts as a proper pedestal for display. 

The figure of David in the Melbourne picture is at once familiar and untraceable. As we have seen, Zoffany claimed the composition to be the product of his inventio. However, given that artists have always borrowed ideas from their predecessors, the temptation to consider possible sources of inspiration is almost irresistible. By this I do not mean that sources have been used for wholesale appropriation, but rather that they have been used as a starting point, to be massaged and manipulated into something quite new. Until the late eighteenth century the main artistic quarry for such purposes was Greco-Roman sculpture. 

The nearest figure with a pose related to that of the David is in fact female: the Muse often known as Polyhymnia. Typically, she leans with her right elbow on a pile of stones or a pillar, with her right hand supporting her chin. Her left hand, which usually appears from under her right arm, holds a scroll. She normally appears in profile. Of the free-standing sculptures of this figure, the best from our point of view is the one in Berlin (SK 221).19See M. Bieber, The Sculpture of the Hellenistic Age, rev. edn, New York, 1961, fig 502, as ‘Melpomene’. Dr Huberta Heres, of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, has kindly sent me the following information (letter to the author, 29 June 1995). The statue was found between 1726 and 1729 near Frascati during the excavations of Cardinal Melchior de Polignac. It was restored by the French sculptor Lambert Sigisbert Adam. Polignac brought his antiquities home to Paris, and after his death the collection was acquired by Frederick II in 1742. The Polyhymnia received more restorations in 1828–30. It was a famous piece, and Dr Heres has suggested the possibility of drawings and casts being available in the 1750s; Mengs’s extensive collection could well have contained such a cast. However, there are also a number of Roman sarcophagi with Muses in high relief, and it is actually on these reliefs that we find the Polyhymnia type with sufficient torsion to compare with that of Zoffany’s David A sarcophagus relief once housed in the Villa Giustiniani and now at the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, is a particularly strong candidate.20See P. P. Bober & R. Rubinstein, Renaissance Artists & Antique Sculpture: A Handbook of Sources, London, 1986, no. 38, pls 38i–38ii, it should be noted that the relief has restorations. For a drawing of the relief, by Giovanni Battista Franco, in the collection of the National Gallery of Victoria, see Bober & Rubinstein, pls 38a-i–38a-ii. It portrays all nine Muses, accompanying Athena and Apollo; on the far left is Polyhymnia. It is important to note that the figures on this relief were individually published in a series of sheets by the prolific engraver Marcantonio Raimondi (c.1480–c.1534),21See A. Bartsch, Le Peintre Graveur, vol. 14, rev. edn, Leipzig, 1867, p. 211, no. 265 (Polyhymnia); K. Oberhuber (ed.), The Illustrated Bartsch, gen. ed. W. L. Strauss, vol. 26, New York, 1978, no. 265, repr. and the relief, or something almost exactly like it, was reproduced, with some changes, by Montfaucon in the early eighteenth century.22B. de Montfaucon, L’Antiquité expliquée et représentée en figures, vol. 1, 2nd edn, Paris, 1722, pl. 60, no. 2; the engraving is used to illustrate a chapter on the Muses. Ms Irena Zdanowicz, Senior Curator of Prints and Drawings at the National Gallery of Victoria, brought this reference to my attention. In the first instance, Polyhymnia’s face is slightly inclined towards the viewer; in the second, the statue is closer to full-face. 

The figures on the Vienna sarcophagus had been recognised as Muses before the eighteenth century. If we accept that Zoffany knew this, it would be logical to consider some further reasons for his choice of the Polyhymnia as the basis for a portrayal of David. We must remember that the Muses represented the various branches of literature and music. A Muse was therefore a fitting model for David, traditionally the author of the Psalms and a skilled harpist who had soothed the suffering King Saul. 

It seems, then, that the stance of the Polyhymnia type formed the basis for Zoffany’s design, but the semi-nude figure had to be given anatomy. Torsion and contrapposto can be found in numerous Greco-Roman sculptures, but, as Pressly has suggested, the best examples available in Rome were without doubt the ignudi painted by the Carracci in the Palazzo Farnese.23Pressly, ‘Johan Zoffany as “David the Anointed One”’, p. 52, see also J. R. Martin, The Farnese Gallery, Princeton, 1965. Zoffany’s David is more mature and certainly more muscular than most of his predecessors. This rendition is more in keeping with the scriptures, for although David is referred to as an adulescens, or Knabe in Luther’s translation (I Samuel: 17, 42), he had to be powerful enough to strangle prowling lions and bears (1 Samuel: 17, 34–36). 

Pressly argues that the David is actually a self-portrait of Zoffany. He believes that the naturalism of the face suggests a portrait, and he points to the placing of the signature on the belt, taking this to imply some form of identification between the artist and the character portrayed, ‘and in this context the white stone doubles as artist’s chalk and the staff as a painter’s mahl-stick’.24Pressly, ‘Johan Zoffany as “David the Anointed One”’, p. 52. The Melbourne picture is currently known by the title Self-portrait as David with the head of Goliath. This argument is not compelling. Artists have traditionally placed their signatures in the most unusual places, and the staff is mentioned in the biblical text. The marble-coloured stone is one of the five smooth pebbles David took from the stream and placed in his shepherd’s pouch (1 Samuel: 17, 40). The way it is held does suggest that it is artist’s chalk which is about to be used. But if the comparison is to be taken literally, then the stone should be in David’s right hand, for Zoffany’s signature suggests that he was not left-handed.25His signature from a letter of 1769, in which he resigned from the directorship of the Society of Artists, is reproduced on the back cover of Webster’s Johan Zoffany 1733–1810 (see note 1 above). 

There are, of course, certain similarities shared by the David and the self-portraits of the older Zoffany. In particular we can compare the general shape of the nose, the mouth, the eyebrows, the high forehead. However, an even more convincing comparison can be made with a self-portrait by Mengs, in the collection of the Duke of Alba. In this picture, Mengs seems to be about thirty years old, this would date the work to the late 1750s. The resemblance between Mengs and Zoffany’s David can only be described as uncanny: the same nose, mouth, chin, forehead, eyebrows and eyelids. The physiognomy of Mengs is far closer to that of the David than is any self-portrait by Zoffany. Although the David is quite obviously younger than Mengs would have been in 1756, Zoffany would have had to make him more youthful for iconographical reasons.26For an excellent reproduction of the Duke of Alba’s picture, see El arte en las colecciones de la Casa de Alba (exh. cat.), La Fundación Caja de Pensiones, Madrid, 1987, cat. no. 17, pp. 114–15, 238. If we accept Zoffany’s David as a self-portrait, we must condemn the possible self-portrait, dated 1761, at the National Portrait Gallery, London, which work Pressly published in 1987 (W. L Pressly, ‘Genius Unveiled: The Self-Portraits of Johan Zoffany’, Art Bulletin, vol. LXIX, 1987, pp 97–8, fig. 9). The London picture is signed Zoffany pinx[it] / 1761, and the inscription seems to be contemporary with the painting. As Pressly observes: ‘[T]he craquelure strongly suggests that the inscription … is part of the original paint surface’ (Pressly, p. 97 n. 34). Unfortunately, the resemblance between the subject of the London picture and the David in Melbourne is not as great as one might wish, considering the former would have been only five years older than the latter. In all fairness, however, the identification of the London subject with Zoffany is based on an undated drawing of the painting (collection of John Lane in 1920). This drawing is inscribed Zoffany, followed by the words Ipse pinxt. 1761. It is possible that the original inscription misled the copyist. For the drawing, see V. Manners & G. C. Williamson, John Zoffany R.A.: His Life and Works, 1735–1810, London, 1920, repr. opp. p. 4. 

One could easily argue, of course, that the David is a portrait of neither Zoffany nor Mengs but is in fact an artistic generalisation, or a portrait of someone else entirely. However, if our painting is in fact a portrayal of either artist, the reference to Polyhymnia brings them within the Muses’ divine circle, which already included David. 

There are many earlier examples of self-portraits appearing in religious and historical works, and within this category of picture are examples of David with the head of Goliath.27See Polleross, pp 105–12, Pressly, ‘Johan Zoffany as “David the Anointed One”’, p. 53. The most famous of these is Caravaggio’s self-portrait as Goliath, with his lover Cecco di Caravaggio, known as Caravaggino, as David (Galleria Borghese, Rome). Not surprisingly, such portrayals have frequently become the subject of psychological analysis. In the case of the Melbourne picture, Pressly has drawn attention to the phallic shape of the sling, which hangs down against the side of Goliath’s face and ends near his mouth. Pressly takes this juxtaposition, I think quite correctly, to be an example of Zoffany’s wit.28Pressly, ‘Johan Zoffany as “David the Anointed One”’, p. 53. 

In fact the painting contains yet another example of the artist’s wit, hitherto unnoticed. The smooth pebble David presents to the viewer resembles a piece of marble rounded at one end and chopped off at the other. There is also a sloping line near the broken end. On closer examination one can see that this stone is the glans of a marble phallus from some imaginary statue. One’s immediate reaction is to assume that it represents some form of ‘supplementary decapitation’ inflicted on Goliath as a final insult. However, there is a further explanation, for what we also have is a Latin pun. The word glans primarily means ‘acorn’; its secondary meanings signify both the glans penis and a leaden or ceramic missile hurled from a sling.29For details of glandes, see C. V. Daremberg & E. Saglio, Dictionnaire des antiquités grecques et romaines d’après les textes et les monuments, vol. 2, part 2, Paris, 1896, pp. 1608–11 (under ‘Glans’); A. F. von Pauly, Pauly’s Real-Encyclopädie der classischen Altertumswissenschaft, rev. edn, vol. VII, part 1, Stuttgart, 1910, cols 1377–80. We can assume that Zoffany learnt a certain amount of Latin, if we can believe his wife’s claim that he had been educated with the young Prince von Thurn und Taxis.30See Millar, p. 38. Julius Caesar’s commentaries, which have long been basic texts for all students of Latin, contain a number of references to glandes. If this was not the case, then the pun could have been suggested by either Mengs or perhaps Winckelmann, who was a frequent visitor at Mengs’s house. 

The glans adds to the meaning suggested by the phallic sling. The connotation is perhaps one of a double act of sexual violation, which is the ultimate insult and humiliation for a defeated enemy. However, it would be a mistake to take the image too literally and seek in it some reference to Zoffany’s personal life. The painting is on the same level as the verbal abuse that is common in many languages – an implied and occasionally comical threat to carry out some form of sexual violence.31See Pressly, ‘Johan Zoffany as “David the Anointed One”’, pp. 53–4. For a gross literary example of comical abuse, consider the following obscene lines by Catullus, which also suggest the varieties of sexual activity implied by the Melbourne painting: Pedicabo ego vos et irrumabo / Aureli pathice et cinaede Furi, / qui me ex versiculis meis putastis / quod sunt molliculi, parum pudicum (Mynors, IV, 1—4). For the precise meanings of the verbs pedicare and irrumare, consult J. N. Adams, The Latin Sexual Vocabulary, London, 1982, pp. 123–30. And if David is Zoffany or Mengs, then who is Goliath? We should undoubtedly assume some fellow artist, also resident in Rome. Unfortunately, with a beard attached and only a profile available, he is now impossible to identify. Zoffany’s joke remains a very private one. 

Zoffany had a reputation for being a prankster, and two stories that were circulated among his contemporaries appeared in some anonymous articles in the Literary Gazette of 1826. One involved the painter Thomas Patch, who is represented in Zoffany’s painting The Tribuna of the Uffizi, 1772–77/78 (Royal Collection). Patch is portrayed showing Raphael’s Venus of Urbino to a group of connoisseurs, while at the same time he points towards a pair of nude Hellenistic wrestlers locked in combat. Zoffany is said by the writer for the Literary Gazette to have painted a black patch on the buttock of one of the wrestlers, as a pun.32‘Fine Arts: Sayings and Doings of Artists and Arts, from the Commencement of the British School’, Literary Gazette and Journal of the Belles-Lettres, 15 July 1826, p. 442. Paulson suggests that this patch referred to Thomas Patch’s sexual proclivities (R. Paulson, Emblem and Expression: Meaning in English Art of the Eighteenth Century, London, 1975, pp. 142–4). For Patch’s career and some documentation, see F. J. B. Watson, ‘Thomas Patch (1725–1782)’, The Walpole Society, vol. XXVIII, 1940, pp. 15–50. See also Webster, cat. no. 76, repr. The writer claimed: ‘This story is transmitted on the authority of Zoffany himself. He, however, was known to be a waggish narrator’.33Literary Gazette and Journal of the Belles-Lettres, 15 July 1826, p. 442. 

Certainly there seems to be no evidence now for the veracity or otherwise of this story, but it at least shows the artist’s reputation among his contemporaries. In fact if one looks carefully at the perspective in the Uffizi painting, Patch could just as easily be pointing at Raphael’s St John, a young nude male to compare to the Venus. 

There is a similar story involving Zoffany’s Portraits of the academicians of the Royal Academy, 1771–72 (Royal Collection). The author from the Literary Gazette tells us that the artist lampooned his fellow painter Richard Wilson by painting a tankard of stout and two crossed pipes above his head on the wall. He is also supposed to have covered ‘the sottish symbols with goldbeaters’ skin, on which he painted a plaster cast of a Gorgon’s head’.34‘Fine Arts: Sayings and Doings of Artists and Arts, from the Commencement of the British School’, Literary Gazette and Journal of the Belles-Lettres, 8 July 1826, p. 428. The picture was then sent to the Royal Academy exhibition of 1772. However, Zoffany apparently did not reveal all at the exhibition for fear of offending ‘the gravity of the magisterial committee of the R.A.s’.35ibid. The tankard and pipes were said to have been eventually painted out, but not before the artist had shared the joke with a ‘select few’.36ibid. Millar, however, has pointed out that X-ray photographs show no evidence for the existence of these objects.37O. Millar, The Later Georgian Pictures in the Collection of Her Majesty the Queen, London, 1969, pp. 152–4, pls 39, 43; see also Webster, cat. no. 74, repr. 

Even more important is the perceptive observation of Paulson. In the lower right-hand corner of the picture is the plaster cast of a female torso, which is lying on its back. ‘The Macaroni Painter’, Richard Cosway, rests his walking-stick on the mons veneris; nearby is an hour-glass. Zoffany is without doubt hinting at Cosway’s reputation as a procurer for the aristocracy38Paulson, pp. 158, 244 n. 41. W. T. Whitley, Artists and Their Friends in England 1700-1799, vol. 2, London, 1928, pp. 114–17, is given by Paulson as the source for his information on Cosway. 

The following stories illustrate Zoffany’s mischievous nature and his lighthearted attitude to religion. Two involve paintings that were reputed to contain scandalous portraits of known people – to portray someone as Judas could be interpreted as libellous; to give St John the Evangelist the features of a well-known anti-Christian would have bordered on the blasphemous. It could be argued that such interpretations originated from Zoffany’s fame as a painter of portraits and conversation-pieces. There is a natural tendency to assume that lifelike faces belong to real individuals, for it is a fact that people dislike lacunae and from time immemorial have created stories to fill them.39Such stories abound. Consider Giotto’s frescos in the Scrovegni Chapel, Padua, in which the head of Judas in the panel where he betrays Christ is traditionally held to be a self-portrait. Many are the nineteenth-century Australian paintings that supposedly contain ancestral portraits. 

In 1787 Zoffany painted The Last Supper for St John’s Church, Calcutta. Some, if not all, of his figures were portraits of European residents in that city. An auctioneer was used for Judas, while St John was a certain W. C. Blaquière, a former magistrate who had the reputation of being an anti-Christian and a ‘Brahminised’ European It is interesting that the church committee not only accepted the gift, but also intended to give Zoffany a ring worth 5000 rupees; unfortunately their funds were insufficient for this extravagance.40See W. Foster, ‘British Artists in India 1760–1820’, The Walpole Society, vol. XIX, 1930–31, pp. 84–5; see also Webster, p. 16, fig 4. 

A similar story was repeated about yet another Last Supper, which Zoffany completed for a church in Kew. He reputedly used a local lawyer for the features of Judas. In addition, the artist himself appeared as St Peter, and his wife as St John. The painting was refused and is now in St George’s Church, Brentford, Middlesex.41 See Webster, p. 16; Manners & Williamson, pp. 118–19. 

In 1986 the above stories gained some credence with the appearance at auction of a painting originally from the parish church at Chiswick (fig. 2). The subject is David playing the harp.42See Old Master Paintings and British Paintings 1500–1850 (sale cat.), Sotheby’s, London, 14–15 May 1986, cat. no. 227, repr., see also Webster, p. 16. He sits in some kind of musical or divine rapture, his eyes raised to heaven. The harp is impossibly large and quite anachronistic. David wears a crown, and hence we know that he is now a king. Behind the harp, but towards the left, are two large tablets with rounded tops, set up on a draped rectangular block. The roman numerals one to ten appear on the tablets. Through the harp-strings we can see a young cherub pointing to the number VII, that is, to the commandment ‘Thou shalt not commit adultery’. At the top of the vertical column of the harp is a classical siren. We can only wonder whether Zoffany realised the significance of the image and knew of the role of the sirens in the Odyssey. Does this siren signify the skill of David’s playing? Or is she a symbol of how David enticed Bathsheba, the wife of his loyal follower Uriah the Hittite, into an adulterous union? In 1904 the Chiswick parish sold this embarrassing painting at auction; it is now in a private collection.43The painting was auctioned at Christie’s, London, 21 March 1904, lot 109. 

It is ironic that in this discussion of Zoffany’s humour, both documented and imagined by others, we should have begun with David the shepherd and ended with David the king, both accompanied by sexual references. However, it is unlikely that these examples would have surprised the artist’s contemporaries. Horace Walpole thought him best suited to humorous subjects: 

Zoffanii is delightful in his real way, and introduces the furniture of a room with great propriety; but his talent is neither for rooms simply nor portraits. He makes wretched pictures when he is serious. His talent is to draw scenes in comedy, and there he beats the Flemish painters in their own way of detail. Butler, the author of Hudibrass, might as well be employed to describe a solemn funeral in which there was nothing ridiculous.44Horace Walpole, letter to Sir Horace Mann, 20 September 1772, in The Yale Edition of Horace Walpole’s Correspondence, ed. W. S. Lewis, vol. 23, New Haven, 1967, p. 435. Compare: ‘His talent is representing natural humour: I look upon him as a Dutch painter polished or civilized. He finishes it highly, renders nature as justly, and does not degrade it, as the Flemish school did, who thought a man vomiting, a good joke; and would not have grudged a week on finishing a belch, if mere labour and patience could have compassed it’ (Walpole to Mann, 12 November 1779, in Correspondence, vol. 24, 1967, p. 527). 

 

Michael Watson, Librarian, National Gallery of Victoria (in 1996). 

 

Notes 

1              He was born Johann Joseph Zauffalӱ at Frankfurt-am-Main in 1733, the son of the Bohemian-born Franz Zauffalӱ, who was originally a cabinet-maker, but later became the court architect of the Prince von Thurn und Taxis. Most of our knowledge of Zoffany’s life until c.1761 is based on notes made by Joseph Farington (1747–1821) and published by Millar (O. Millar, Zoffany and His Tribuna, Studies in British Art, London, 1966, pp. 37–9). Some other variants of the artist’s surname are Zoffani, Zauffaly and Zauphaly. The final y usually had an umlaut and hence was really a ligature for ij (for the inscription ZOFFANIJ on a drawing, see M. Webster, Johan Zoffany 1733–1810 (exh. cat.), National Portrait Gallery, London, 1976, cat. no 134, repr.; the signature Johan Zoffanӱ is reproduced on the back cover). Horace Walpole regularly used the spelling Zoffanii in his letters. See also U. Hoff, European Paintings before 1800 in the National Gallery of Victoria, rev. edn, Melbourne, 1995, pp. 327–8. 

2              Most of our knowledge of Mengs’s domestic arrangements comes from the letters of the scholar Johann Joachim Winckelmann (1717–1768). For Mengs and his ‘school’ in Rome, see T. Pelzel, Anton Raphael Mengs and Neoclassicism, New York, 1979, pp. 52–70, 173–82. 

3              For short biographies of Zoffany, see Webster, pp. 8–16; U. Thieme & F. Becker, Allgemeines Lexikon der bildenden Künstler von der Antike bis zur Gegenwart, vol. XXXVI, Leipzig, 1947, pp. 544–6. 

4              The picture was acquired from Richard L. Feigen and Co., New York, who had purchased it at auction (see Dessins et tableaux anciens (sale cat.), Groupe Gersaint, Pavilion Joséphine, Strasbourg, 17 November 1989, cat. no. 265, repr., as by Anton Raphael Mengs). The signature – 1756 I: Zauffalӱ inv et pinx – was discovered on the belt after the picture was cleaned in New York. 

5              W. L. Pressly, ‘Johan Zoffany as “David the Anointed One”’, Apollo, vol. CXLI, no. 397, March 1995, pp. 49–55. 

6              Pressly raises another possibility: that Goliath is looking at the stone that felled him (Pressly, ‘Johan Zoffany as “David the Anointed One”’, p. 52). 

7              See Webster, cat. no. 6, repr. 

8              It is perhaps worth noting that the versions of the Bible available to Zoffany would have been either the Vulgate or Luther’s translation. 

9              See Pressly, ‘Johan Zoffany as “David the Anointed One”’, p. 53. For Donatello’s David, see H. W. Janson, The Sculpture of Donatello, Princeton, 1963, pp. 77–86, pls 32b–35b. In 1 Samuel: 17, 42, David is referred to as an adulescens (Knabe in Luther’s translation). 

10           1 Samuel: 16, 12: Erat autem rufus et pulcher aspectu decoraque facie / Und er war bräunlicht, mil schönen Augen und guter Gestalt (cf. 1 Samuel: 17, 42). 

11           For the beginning of the story of David and Jonathan, see 1 Samuel: 18, 1–5; see also F. Polleross, ‘Between Typology and Psychology: The Role of the Identification Portrait in Updating Old Testament Representations’, Artibus et Historiae, vol. 24, 1991, p. 109. 

12           See The Age of Caravaggio (exh. cat.), Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1985, cat. no. 42, repr. p. 153. 

13           ibid., cat. no. 51, repr. p. 175. 

14           Pressly, ‘Johan Zoffany as “David the Anointed One”’, p. 52, fig. 3. 

15           See D. Mahon, Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, Il Guercino 1591–1666, 2nd edn, [Bologna], 1991, no. 128, repr. p. 335. 

16           See Pressly, ‘Johan Zoffany as “David the Anointed One”’, pp. 50–2. 

17           See B. Nicolson, The International Caravaggesque Movement, Oxford, 1979, p. 110, pl. 239 (cf. the engraving after Pordenone’s lost self-portrait as David (see Polleross, p. 106, fig. 28)). 

18           He is quite distant from Caravaggio’s self-portrait as Goliath in the David with the head of Goliath at the Galleria Borghese, Rome (see The Age of Caravaggio, cat. no. 97, repr. p. 339). 

19           See M. Bieber, The Sculpture of the Hellenistic Age, rev. edn, New York, 1961, fig 502, as ‘Melpomene’. Dr Huberta Heres, of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, has kindly sent me the following information (letter to the author, 29 June 1995). The statue was found between 1726 and 1729 near Frascati during the excavations of Cardinal Melchior de Polignac. It was restored by the French sculptor Lambert Sigisbert Adam. Polignac brought his antiquities home to Paris, and after his death the collection was acquired by Frederick II in 1742. The Polyhymnia received more restorations in 1828–30. It was a famous piece, and Dr Heres has suggested the possibility of drawings and casts being available in the 1750s; Mengs’s extensive collection could well have contained such a cast. 

20           See P. P. Bober & R. Rubinstein, Renaissance Artists & Antique Sculpture: A Handbook of Sources, London, 1986, no. 38, pls 38i–38ii, it should be noted that the relief has restorations. For a drawing of the relief, by Giovanni Battista Franco, in the collection of the National Gallery of Victoria, see Bober & Rubinstein, pls 38a-i–38a-ii. 

21           See A. Bartsch, Le Peintre Graveur, vol. 14, rev. edn, Leipzig, 1867, p. 211, no. 265 (Polyhymnia); K. Oberhuber (ed.), The Illustrated Bartsch, gen. ed. W. L. Strauss, vol. 26, New York, 1978, no. 265, repr. 

22           B. de Montfaucon, L’Antiquité expliquée et représentée en figures, vol. 1, 2nd edn, Paris, 1722, pl. 60, no. 2; the engraving is used to illustrate a chapter on the Muses. Ms Irena Zdanowicz, Senior Curator of Prints and Drawings at the National Gallery of Victoria, brought this reference to my attention. 

23           Pressly, ‘Johan Zoffany as “David the Anointed One”’, p. 52, see also J. R. Martin, The Farnese Gallery, Princeton, 1965. 

24           Pressly, ‘Johan Zoffany as “David the Anointed One”’, p. 52. The Melbourne picture is currently known by the title Self-portrait as David with the head of Goliath

25           His signature from a letter of 1769, in which he resigned from the directorship of the Society of Artists, is reproduced on the back cover of Webster’s Johan Zoffany 1733–1810 (see note 1 above). 

26           For an excellent reproduction of the Duke of Alba’s picture, see El arte en las colecciones de la Casa de Alba (exh. cat.), La Fundación Caja de Pensiones, Madrid, 1987, cat. no. 17, pp. 114–15, 238. If we accept Zoffany’s David as a self-portrait, we must condemn the possible self-portrait, dated 1761, at the National Portrait Gallery, London, which work Pressly published in 1987 (W. L Pressly, ‘Genius Unveiled: The Self-Portraits of Johan Zoffany’, Art Bulletin, vol. LXIX, 1987, pp 97–8, fig. 9). The London picture is signed Zoffany pinx[it] / 1761, and the inscription seems to be contemporary with the painting. As Pressly observes: ‘[T]he craquelure strongly suggests that the inscription … is part of the original paint surface’ (Pressly, p. 97 n. 34). Unfortunately, the resemblance between the subject of the London picture and the David in Melbourne is not as great as one might wish, considering the former would have been only five years older than the latter. In all fairness, however, the identification of the London subject with Zoffany is based on an undated drawing of the painting (collection of John Lane in 1920). This drawing is inscribed Zoffany, followed by the words Ipse pinxt. 1761. It is possible that the original inscription misled the copyist. For the drawing, see V. Manners & G. C. Williamson, John Zoffany R.A.: His Life and Works, 1735–1810, London, 1920, repr. opp. p. 4. 

27           See Polleross, pp 105–12, Pressly, ‘Johan Zoffany as “David the Anointed One”’, p. 53. 

28           Pressly, ‘Johan Zoffany as “David the Anointed One”’, p. 53. 

29           For details of glandes, see C. V. Daremberg & E. Saglio, Dictionnaire des antiquités grecques et romaines d’après les textes et les monuments, vol. 2, part 2, Paris, 1896, pp. 1608–11 (under ‘Glans’); A. F. von Pauly, Pauly’s Real-Encyclopädie der classischen Altertumswissenschaft, rev. edn, vol. VII, part 1, Stuttgart, 1910, cols 1377–80. 

30           See Millar, p. 38. Julius Caesar’s commentaries, which have long been basic texts for all students of Latin, contain a number of references to glandes

31           See Pressly, ‘Johan Zoffany as “David the Anointed One”’, pp. 53–4. For a gross literary example of comical abuse, consider the following obscene lines by Catullus, which also suggest the varieties of sexual activity implied by the Melbourne painting: Pedicabo ego vos et irrumabo / Aureli pathice et cinaede Furi, / qui me ex versiculis meis putastis / quod sunt molliculi, parum pudicum (Mynors, IV, 1—4). For the precise meanings of the verbs pedicare and irrumare, consult J. N. Adams, The Latin Sexual Vocabulary, London, 1982, pp. 123–30. 

32           ‘Fine Arts: Sayings and Doings of Artists and Arts, from the Commencement of the British School’, Literary Gazette and Journal of the Belles-Lettres, 15 July 1826, p. 442. Paulson suggests that this patch referred to Thomas Patch’s sexual proclivities (R. Paulson, Emblem and Expression: Meaning in English Art of the Eighteenth Century, London, 1975, pp. 142–4). For Patch’s career and some documentation, see F. J. B. Watson, ‘Thomas Patch (1725–1782)’, The Walpole Society, vol. XXVIII, 1940, pp. 15–50. See also Webster, cat. no. 76, repr. 

33           Literary Gazette and Journal of the Belles-Lettres, 15 July 1826, p. 442. 

34           ‘Fine Arts: Sayings and Doings of Artists and Arts, from the Commencement of the British School’, Literary Gazette and Journal of the Belles-Lettres, 8 July 1826, p. 428. 

35           ibid. 

36           ibid. 

37           O. Millar, The Later Georgian Pictures in the Collection of Her Majesty the Queen, London, 1969, pp. 152–4, pls 39, 43; see also Webster, cat. no. 74, repr. 

38           Paulson, pp. 158, 244 n. 41. W. T. Whitley, Artists and Their Friends in England 1700-1799, vol. 2, London, 1928, pp. 114–17, is given by Paulson as the source for his information on Cosway. 

39           Such stories abound. Consider Giotto’s frescos in the Scrovegni Chapel, Padua, in which the head of Judas in the panel where he betrays Christ is traditionally held to be a self-portrait. Many are the nineteenth-century Australian paintings that supposedly contain ancestral portraits. 

40           See W. Foster, ‘British Artists in India 1760–1820’, The Walpole Society, vol. XIX, 1930–31, pp. 84–5; see also Webster, p. 16, fig 4. 

41           See Webster, p. 16; Manners & Williamson, pp. 118–19. 

42           See Old Master Paintings and British Paintings 1500–1850 (sale cat.), Sotheby’s, London, 14–15 May 1986, cat. no. 227, repr., see also Webster, p. 16. 

43           The painting was auctioned at Christie’s, London, 21 March 1904, lot 109. 

44           Horace Walpole, letter to Sir Horace Mann, 20 September 1772, in The Yale Edition of Horace Walpole’s Correspondence, ed. W. S. Lewis, vol. 23, New Haven, 1967, p. 435. Compare: ‘His talent is representing natural humour: I look upon him as a Dutch painter polished or civilized. He finishes it highly, renders nature as justly, and does not degrade it, as the Flemish school did, who thought a man vomiting, a good joke; and would not have grudged a week on finishing a belch, if mere labour and patience could have compassed it’ (Walpole to Mann, 12 November 1779, in Correspondence, vol. 24, 1967, p. 527).