In one of our previous blogs we took a look at the famous painting by Johan Zoffany, ‘Colonel Mordaunt’s Cock Match’. His name cropped again in our research so we thought we’d find out more about the man and his family and came across this book online, which would definitely recommend – John Zoffany, R. A., his life and works. 1735-1810 by Lady Victoria Manners and G.C Williamson.
His life and his works appear to be have been very well documented but, in brief, Zoffany was born in Germany, moved to London and married twice. His first wife, Anthonie Theophista Juliane Eiselein, whom he married in the late 1750s, left him at some stage to return to Germany and died shortly after, after which he married for the second time and the couple had 4 daughters. He died 11th November 1810.
So that’s the basic facts of his life in a nutshell … but needless to say we have come across a few anomalies for which we have no answers, perhaps our readers can offer some help.
Everywhere we’ve looked states that he was born on 13 March 1733 near Frankfurt am Main, Germany, and baptized on 15 March at St Bartholomew’s Cathedral (including the ODNB). If you ‘do the maths’ on this, he would have been aged 77 when he died.
So who got it wrong? The entry in the burial register, although a faint copy, quite clearly records his age at the end of the line as 87, a full 10 years older than stated everywhere, added to this, his gravestone also gives his age as 87.
We are unsure why no-one has ever questioned this. We know it is quite common for entries to be a year or so out, but it’s very unusual for them to be a whole 10 years out – so someone got it wrong, was it his wife who arranged for the tomb to be erected, did she simply get it wrong or was it historians, who over the years just assumed that what they had read about his date of birth was correct without checking any further?
He had 4 daughters, all four of whom he mentions in his will – Maria Theresa Louisa who was born on 4th April 1777, but who was not baptized until 1801.
Cecilia Clementina Elizabeth (baptized 10th December 1780).
Claudina Sophia Ann, (no sign of her baptism, but census returns confirm that she was born c1793) and finally Laura Helen Constantia who was reputed to have been born 1795 (RIP July 11 1876), making Johan quite elderly when she was born (62 or 72).
The strangest thing of all though is, despite his 4 daughters, his marriage to Mary Thomas, didn’t take place until 20th April 1805 making him either 72 or 82 at the time. He was reputed to have married Mary in Florence c1771/72 and it is said that they had a son whilst living there. However, Mary married as a spinster in 1805 so either the Italian wedding was not legal in England, or no marriage had previously taken place.
It begs the question as to why he left it so late. It can’t have been an attempt to legitimize his daughters before they were of an age to marry, as the two eldest, Maria and Cecilia, were married 1801 and 1799 respectively. Perhaps it was to give his wife security for when he died given that she was some considerable years younger than her husband? Mary died in 1832, aged 77.
We end this post with more questions than answers, perhaps someone in the future will be able to solve this mystery, so in the meantime, we will continue to enjoy his works.
Featured image – The Tribuna of the Uffizi 1772-77 Courtesy of the Royal Collection