Detail from The Academicians of the Royal Academy: Johann Zoffany

Referenced in Dr. Max Fincher's essay “Queer Gothic


“…The standing figure represents the flamboyant artist, Richard Cosway, ‘the Maccaroni miniaturist’, an artist who fashioned himself as a quintessential eighteenth-century gentleman and collector. The ‘Macaroni’s were foppish, fashionable gentleman, whose gender and sexuality are less than stable: There is indeed a kind of animal, neither male nor female, a thing of the neuter gender, lately [1770] started up among us. It is called a macaroni. It talks without meaning, it smiles without pleasantry, it eats without appetite, it rides without exercise, it wenches without passion. Cosway’s arm extends to the semi-nude unidentified male model who looks directly out at the viewer. Does he have a knowing secretive expression? From the top of the young man’s shoulder, Cosway’s cane descends almost directly into the private parts of a sculpture, probably a Venus de Milo, the top of which touches Cosway’s calf, forming the triangular composition of this part of the painting. The young model’s body is dramatically lit, while the Venus is in shadow, abject on the floor. Cosway was married to Maria Cosway, and renowned for his boasts about his sexual prowess, even if this was ‘wenching without passion’. But could Zoffany be pointing more generally towards another sexual dynamic here, between that of the rich artist or patron and the penniless model? Considering that the life drawing room of the Royal Academy was a homosocial space where only men were permitted to gaze upon and draw paid nude male models, many from the poorer parts of London, it is not an inconceivable to make the leap that there is an erotic economy at play.”