Interest

Communication is a two-way street. Artists may communicate narratives through their work, but if no one can decipher the image and “read” the narrative, then all is lost. The audience (sometimes referred to as the “viewer”) must firstly be interested enough in the work of art to actually look at it and then spend enough time in front of it to figure out the story. The viewer’s perception of the painting and its content will ultimately determine its success.

During the 18th century, a Scottish philosopher by the name of David Hume proposed the concept of “interest.” As he wrote, we naturally gravitate toward objects which interest us, or which satisfy our basic needs. A prime illustration of interest is Zoffany’s painting titled The Tribuna, 1772. The Tribuna is a gallery in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy. Rather than painting the gallery with the few prime examples  displayed there, he included all of the acclaimed masterpieces throughout the city. Roaming around are two dozen English tourists. They look around the room surveying the paintings, sculptures, and other curiosities. However, based on their placement, they have gravitated towards certain objects. They have more interest in some works than others. Which works? They ignore the religious paintings on the back walls, portraits of past rulers, Egyptian sculptures on the floor, and other luxury objects.
 

 


 

THIS ILLUSTRATION IS BADLY CUT OFF, PLEASE DELETE AND REPLACE WITH ILLUSTRATION TITLED “Tribuna”

 

  Clearly, they have higher interest in the painting in the foreground by Titan entitled the Venus of Urbino, the painting on the left by Raphael of the Madonna and Child (which one man is considering purchasing), and the Roman statue of Venus at the right.  

What do the painting in the foreground, the image of the Madonna and the statue of Venus have in common? The display of flesh. Why? We know from the journals written by these travelers that the city of Florence was inhospitable to English tourists. They regarded these Protestants as a potential corrupting influence on their city. So, during tourist season, they sequestered their women from public view and removed from any corrupting influences. Taking into account the slow pace of travel in the 18th century, these men would have been in this city without female companionship for up to a month. And so, when they enter a museum and see female flesh (though fictional) they stare and drool (especially some of the men around Venus).