Zoffany, in the 1760’s was commissioned by Queen Charlotte to created a canvas that would immortalize the Uffizi, Florence’s major museum, and in particular the Renaissance treasures of the Medici collection. The visit to the Uffizi was a major goal of the Grand Tour, With the unprecedented wealth from colonialism, the most wealthy, as a sign of prestige, breeding and class distinction would send their sons to the continent to be exposed to the great cultural moments of Europe, with Italy being the most prestigious. In fact, the Grand Tour, catalyzed the collection and sale of art on a commercial scale that we know today.
The main narrative of “Uffizi” is the prominent role, a “natural law” whereby the English gentlemen represent the rightful inheritors of a Western tradition going back to Antiquity and through the Renaissance, bypassing Catholic theology. Zoffany’s painting also underscores the concept of the artist and his work as a part of a cultural fetish, an object fetish, and the implied “male gaze” as seen by the central position of the nude woman in Titian’s Venus of Urbino. There is an evident connection between the men and their social status and this collection of the finest examples of Western Art. The English gentlemen’s assimilation of the tradition is ego-centrically represented in that they are integrated as objects of culture and works of art themselves; a kinetic commodity among others. All this crassness and vulgar commerciality was made swallowable through the newly minted study of aesthetics as a branch of philosophical thought; an endless examination of the theory of taste and construction of the intellectual baggage needed to ruminate on the beautiful in nature and art.
Whatever Zoffany’s result,he was not working in a vacuum. The heavy lifting had been done forty years earlier by Watteau, the first whiff of a new age after the death of the Sun King. For Watteau, in 1719, this crisis manifested itself in two ways: a need for new subjects and a search for a new ways of compositional organization that would not submit to the temptation of golden means and divine ratios. Watteau, unlike Zoffany was a poet of illusion; his subjects are make believe, and his figures are half in fancy dress, with his most realistic works being those which represent actors, harlequins, performers. masks. Because of Watteau’s ability in articulating the reality of details , these illusions attained a a believability, a plausibility , an escape within an escape. The Sign uses the schematic perspective of fifteenth-century Florence, which resembled a stage and the theatre. Here, the setting is a box: walls converging on a vanishing point, with a check foreground as point of departure. But this box is also a stage and in the disposition of the figures, which Gersaint found so natural, Watteau has used the arts of the stage director. The packing up was the narrative of the end of an epoch and a new way of life. Watteau, by establishing his actors on a stage maintained his detachment, but the gaze is not the `”make gaze”; This, although the actors are no longer creatures of illusion, but real and familiar, representing the emerging archetypes. The circle is completed, connected to masters such as of Titian and Rembrandt by projecting a vague but tangible mystic union between the artist and his art.
So, When the Beatles released their iconic Sergeant Pepper’s almost 250 years after Zoffany, there was precedent. Watteau boxing up an old world, Zoffany where art objects became a stratified market imbued with distinction and status, and with the Beatles, where commodity now in the age of celebrity, the individual themselves were merchandised, seen in Walter Benjamin’s analysis:
The sense of the aura is lost on film and the reproducible image itself demonstrates a historical shift that we have to take account of even if when we don’t necessarily notice it. What does it mean when the aura is lost? How does it function and how does it come about? Benjamin writes of the loss of the aura as a loss of a singular authority within the work of art itself. But what comes through in this new space left by the death to the aura? How does the mechanically reproduced work of art manage to make up for this void?
As Benjamin continues, a tension between new modes of perception and the aura arise. The removal of authority within the original work of art infers a loss of authority, however, in regards to mass consumption, this liberation is not necessarily contingent. The cameraman, for example, intervenes with what we see in a way which a painting can never do. It directs the eye towards a specific place and a specific story; at the same time it is radical and revolutionary it is also totalitarian. It guides us to a particular side of a story and leaves other parts out. It dulls our perception towards the work of art and introduces distraction as a mode of reception. The location of anything we might call the aura has to be moved into a mythological space; into the cult of genius. This cult of genius relates back to the cultish characteristic of the aura itself; in its absence there is a grabbling for a replacement. What does it mean to place an aura on “someone” or “something”? Is it even necessary to reclaim the aura in the first place? The mystical cult of the original in broken with the loss of the aura, and now every one can go to a gallery, a museum, the theater or the cinema. A whole new appreciation of art is introduced while at the same time, a whole new mode of deception and distraction also enters. Read More:http://frankfurtschool.wordpress.com/2008/02/28/summary-the-work-of-art-in-the-age-of-mechanical-reproduction/