Zoffany's condoms

March 12 2012

Image of Zoffany's condoms

Picture: Times

In the TLS, Professor Mary Beard talks about her visit to the new Zoffany exhibition at the RA, and Zoffany's most risque self-portrait, above:

...we then explored some of the paintings we didn't know. One (from the Gallery at Parma) was a curious self-portrait of Zoffany apparently putting on a friar's outfit, actually getting ready to go out to party in fancy dress. And he's looking forward to a good time, for on the wall were hanging up, the label said, two condoms.

"But" asked the husband, "why do they say "two"? There's three of them hanging up -- a pair, and one a bit further to the right."

And that's certainly what it looked like. In fact it looked as if the condom on the right was neatly hanging over yet another version of the Venus of Urbino...just to rub in what the painting was all about. We didn't linger long, but decided to check it out when we got home.

That's where the story took a curious turn. Every single image I could get of this painting, including the one in the catalogue (above), crops off a good few centimetres on the right hand side, so you can't actually see what's going on there, and whether there's a third condom or not. In fact, in a major article on Zoffany self portraits (in the Art Bulletin 1987), William Pressly explains that even he hasn't seen the original painting and has only had access to a photo slightly cropped on the right. On the basis of that, he concludes that Zoffany had painted a strange tear in his image of the Venus of Urbino -- a significantly condom-shape tear (and that's the line repeated in the new catalogue). 

Notice to "Internet Explorer" Users

You are seeing this notice because you are using Internet Explorer 6.0 (or older version). IE6 is now a deprecated browser which this website no longer supports. To view the Art History News website, you can easily do so by downloading one of the following, freely available browsers:

Once you have upgraded your browser, you can return to this page using the new application, whereupon this notice will have been replaced by the full website and its content.