The Tribuna of the Uffizi: some perspectives

Posted on March 24, 2013


“The Tribuna of the Uffizi” (1772-78) by Johann Zoffany is one of those extravagant paintings with paintings painted on it (just for laughs: paintingception). Queen Charlotte commissioned Zoffany to paint the Florence gallery and there we have it, a masterpiece that only exceptionally skilled hands could achieve.

The work as a whole

The masterpiece was done during the Classical period (1750-1820). However, there are elements of Baroque art seen in the work:

  • Things to Look for in Baroque Art:

    • Images are direct, obvious, and dramatic.
    • Tries to draw the viewer in to participate in the scene.
    • Depictions feel physically and psychologically real. Emotionally intense.
    • Extravagant settings and ornamentation.
    • Dramatic use of color.
    • Dramatic contrasts between light and dark, light and shadow.
    • As opposed to Renaissance art with its clearly defined planes, with each figure placed in isolation from each other, Baroque art has continuous overlapping of figures and elements.
    • Common themes: grandiose visions, ecstasies and conversions, martyrdom and death, intense light, intense psychological moments.

When I first saw the painting (digitally, that is), I was overwhelmed by the number of elements present in it. There is also a balance of elements in the painting, because it does not seem to heavy on one side. Vibrancy is also very evident.

Wikipedia (I know how you feel about Wikipedia but this seems legit) lists down some references that were seen in Tribuna:

  • Arrotino, bottom left (sculpture)
  • Chimera of Arezzo, bottom left (sculpture)
  • Cupid and Psyche, far left (sculpture)
  • Dancing Faun, left of back wall (sculpture)
  • Carracci, Venus and Satyr, top left of left wall
  • Raphael, Madonna della seggiola, left of left wall
  • Raphael, Madonna del cardellino, left of back wall
  • Raphael, St John the Baptist, middle of back wall
  • Raphael, Pope Leo X with Cardinals Giulio de’ Medici and Luigi de’ Rossi, top right of right wall
  • Raphael, Portrait of Perugino, middle-right of back wall
  • Reni, Charity, top right of left wall
  • Reni, Madonna, top right of back wall
  • Reni, Cleopatra, top left of right wall
  • Correggio, Madonna and Child, middle of left wall
  • Justus Sustermans, Galileo, right of left wall
  • School of Titian, Madonna and Child with St Catherine, top left of back wall
  • Franciabigio (formerly attributed to Raphael), Madonna del Pozzo, bottom right of back wall
  • Baby Hercules strangling two serpents, middle of back wall (sculpture)
  • Holbein, Sir Richard Southwell, middle-left of back wall
  • Holy Family, now attributed to Niccolò Soggi, bottom right of back wall
  • Rubens, The Consequences of War, 1638, middle of back wall
  • Rubens, Justus Lipsius with his Pupils, middle of right wall
  • The Two Wrestlers (sculpture), right of back wall
  • Pietro da Cortona, Abraham and Hagar, left of right wall
  • School of Caravaggio, Tribute Money, middle of right wall
  • Cristofano Allori, Miracle of St Julian, right of right wall
  • Squatting Egyptian figure (18th Dynasty), middle of room (sculpture)
  • Medici Venus, far right (sculpture)
  • Titian, Venus of Urbino, front right, resting on an ancient cinerary urn
  • Workshop of Guercino, Sibyl, bottom middle floor

There’s so much going on here, right? The entire painting is an active frame, meaning there exists in it a world of its own. Using different perspectives, however, changes the “active” frame to the opposing “passive” frame where a world outside the frame is suggested.  We will shed light on this later (get it? Because photographers use lighting as a major element in their works…never mind).

On a formalist (depictive) level, a three-dimensional world is suggested as we can see the “flatness” of the paintings in it. When it comes to focus, there is so much going on in this picture that there seems to be no particular element of focus. I think  punctum can easily be recognized if we were to analyze the painting using the different scenes that make it up.

There is a great sense of a”lived space” as this representation of the Florence gallery is being utilized by the elites which could be artists, curators, connoisseurs, or just rich people who like to collect art.

As much of the paintings during that time were, Tribuna depicts the elite in their luxurious activities which, in this case, is curating art. There is a sense of romanticizing the everyday of the elite, as in today’s advertising as viewed by Berger. There is glamour. Nudes can also be seen where the woman is the object of the gaze.

The work in parts

Since I am not able to rework the entire painting (can you imagine?), what I did was to crop out scenes from the painting, working as though they were scenes entirely of their own. It’s as if I was the photographer in the scene and the elements in it were my subjects.

  1. Titian’s Venus of Urbino                        1Titian’s Venus is a classic example of “I see the world” as opposed to “the world being seen”. This is the classic female nude where the female is the object of the male gaze; the object of pleasure.
  2.  Women in paintings                                                                                   2Again, as an object of male gaze. However, children are also depicted making it a classic “Madonna-and-child” style.
  3. Religious iconography                                                    3Prominent in this kind of classic art are religious paintings. Representations of the Virgin Mary, Jesus, angels, etc. become icon status because of constant reproduction. The thing is, these are not the actual people they represent. But people have given meanings to them. This makes iconography powerful. If we have not known that the woman on the top right represents the Virgin Mary, we would have dismissed her as some random Baroque-era Italian woman.
  4. Groups Of Men: “Men act, women appear”                                                                    4 Men are typically seen giving off an aura of power. Look at the intellectual-looking men at the top right and the official-looking man at the bottom left.
  5. Object of the gaze                                                                                                       5The fact that the people in the painting are all males and that a lot of them are grouped around the female sculpture (compared to the others) proves Berger: women are to be seen while man sees. I’m not sure if this is intended or not, but it makes you think, right?
  6. The gaze returned                                                                                                                                          7They’re rich. They’re glamorous. They judge you, peasant spectator.
  7. The Nude   bg“To be naked is to be without clothes; a nude is created by art.” – Kenneth Clark
  8. The Elite                                        blakWith just their gestures, you could tell that they are the ruling class and that they have the say on what is “art”. The ruling class sets the standards, and as far as I know, they still do. The painting also depicts some kind of a business transaction of art. This could be a Classical era depiction of commodity fetishism.