March 21, 1998


Let it not be said that dramatist William S. Gilbert, who poked good-natured fun at almost everything else, couldn't target himself and partner Sir Arthur Sullivan. When we take yet another look at the "Modern Major General" lyrics, we hear:

I can tell undoubted Raphaels from Gerard Dows and Zoffanies,
I know the croaking chorus from the Frogs of Aristophanes!
Then I can hum a fugue of which I've heard the music's din afore,
And whistle all the airs from that infernal nonsense Pinafore.

We know what he's referring to when he mentions Pinafore. But who were Gerard Dow and Zoffanies. I'm glad I asked. I'll tell you. (That was about as subtle as a song cue.)

Gerard, or Gerhard Dow (variously spelled D-O-U-W) was a Dutch painter, born in Leyden on April 7, 1613. By the time he was fifteen, Dow had been apprenticed in painting on glass and engraving. He spent the next three years studying with the painter Rembrandt. His own early works were very much in the style of the Flemish master, but he soon developed his own style, probably a 17th century version of an Andrew Wyeth, for his paintings were described as displaying, "all the details...down to the most trivial." Not being able to obtain brushes fine enough for his purpose, he manufactured his own. It's said he spent five days painting a single human hand. Models soon became scarce - no one could sit still long enough. No one could touch him when it came to painting scenes lit by candles or lanterns, such as in The Evening School . Dow's paintings brought high prices and the president of the Hague paid him a thousand florins a year for the right of first refusal. Dow died in 1680.

Johann Zoffany was born in Frankfort-on-Main in 1753, to the architect of the prince of Thurn and Taxis. Running away from home at the age of thirteen, Johann made his way to Rome, where he studied painting for the next dozen years before making his way to England in 1758. He struggled for a few years before royal commissions from George III and Empress Maria Theresa put him on the map. Speaking of the map, Zoffany was all over it. After spending time in Austria and once again in Italy, he traveled to India, where he painted for three years before returning to England, dying there in 1810. Dow and Zoffany certainly give the lie to the stereotype of the starving artist dying in poverty.

For Classical ninety-one five, this is David Minor.


© 1998 David Minor / Eagles Byte