Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Johann Zoffany - The Academicians at the Royal Academy

 Johann Zoffany, The Academicians at the Royal Academy, 1771
(The Royal Collection, United Kingdom)
The French Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture had opened in Paris in 1648 in order to educate young artists under the supervision of an academy member in drawing from casts of classical sculptures and live models.  It was a way to professionalize the artist and ensure upholding high standards as well as elevating the visual arts as a cultural  phenomenon.  With similar goals in mind the  Royal Academy in London opened in 1768.   Membership to the academy was the highest reward for an artist at this time.

The British Royal Academy had 34 founding members that included two female artists, Angelica Kauffman and Mary Moser.  The first president of the Royal academy, Sir Joshua Reynolds, was also calling out to elevate art in the grand manner based in the art of Michelangelo and Raphael and similar to its French counterpart, the students were drawing from casts of classical statuary as well as the life   model.

This painting is a very good example of what a life class must have looked like at the Academy which was a place to teach and to learn.  All along the walls, it is possible to see classical sculptures and the academicians are looking at two male nudes, one standing, the other sitting down.  There seems to be an apparatus of some sort, a curve that is attached to the standing model's arm, helping him to hold his pose.  Almost all the founding members are present except the two female members who are present only as paintings on the right wall. The only other female presence is a castoff torso that is lying down on the floor in the right foreground.  A newly elected academician Richard Cosway, who was known for not having too much affection for women has his stick on her torso.

The male models used were usually soldiers and the artist who wanted to study the female nude had to do it privately and usually with a prostitute since women of virtue could not pose for them.  Even the females who themselves were academicians could not be present in a life class because their reputation would suffer; so they too are objectified in this assembly of their contemporaries and associates. This restriction affecting the genre of painting they could aspire to, making historical painting quite impossible without a knowledge of the anatomy. 

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