Versatile artist and vagrant man of the world, Johan Zoffany has left us a vivid and exquisitely detailed record of the late eighteenth-century social scene from Scotland to the Indian subcontinent. By Aram Bakshian Jr.
For London sightseers in 1772, the piece de résistance in Cox’s Museum - a mechanical menagerie and jewelry exhibit in the neighbourhood of Charing Cross - was an elaborate ‘Throne of gold thirty-two feet in circumference’. The clockwork monstrosity in question included two altars with the royal cyphers and a mechanical band of trumpets and kettledrums capable of playing ‘various fine pieces’, patriotically concluding with a stirring rendition of God save the King. Other features of the great gilt elephant included ‘vases filled with flowers of jeweller’s work... containing musical machines and mechanical motions, by which the flowers unfold, and insects move like life’.
Hanging on the wall above the ‘Throne of gold’, gazing placidly at the rapt spectators and oblivious to blare of band and buzz of clockwork bees, were two excellent likenesses of King George III and his consort Queen Charlotte, described in Mr Cox’s catalogue as: