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Angelica Kauffman

Swiss, 1741 - 1807

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Born in Chur, Switzerland, in 1741, Angelika Kauffmann spent much of her childhood traveling through Switzerland, Austria, and northern Italy as her father; an ecclesiastical muralist and portrait painter, searched for commissions. She succeeded in establishing herself as a conspicuous figure in the art world of late eighteenth-century London soon after her arrival there in 1766, after a period of study in Rome from 1763. Her reputation rapidly spread throughout Europe, and she stands today as a rare example not only of a portraitist of the English rich and famous at home and abroad but also of a successful international artist, recognized as a capable painter of historical and mythological subjects.

Criticism until fairly recently has been skewed toward the personal, with Kauffmann's relatively unencumbered lifestyle piously interpreted as scandalous (Roworth, Wendy Wassyng, ed. Angelica Kauffman: A Continental Artist in Georgian England, 1992, pp. 11-13). In fact, she recognized the handicap of her sex and refused to be cowed. A critical reevaluation of her work has occurred largely as a result of the wealth of relevant literature that has appeared in the last two decades (see notes). Kauffmann's father, with whom she lived for much of her life, initially trained her as an artist, but she was also an accomplished musician, a career she rejected in favor of painting (her precocious self-portrait done at the age of thirteen, complete with neck- ribbon, earrings, and powdered hair, shows her holding a sheet of music; ibid pl. 8). She was in 1768 a founding member of London's Royal Academy of Arts and regularly sent paintings to its exhibitions.

Not circumscribed by a limited range of subjects and mediums as were many women artists, she chose from a wide variety of topics: ancient and modern history, classical themes, and incidents from Shakespeare and Ossian--often chosen to demonstrate the power and cunning of women. She also produced portraits, decorative projects, and numerous drawings. She astutely mastered the skills of etching and engraving in order to broaden the circulation of her images.

Her success must also have been partly a result of her personal charm, beauty, intelligence, and sheer energy, known through a contemporary biography (De Rossi, Giovanni Gherardo. Vita di Angelica Kauffinann, pittrice. Florence: Molini, 1810), her extensive correspondence, and the various comments she elicited. She enjoyed an apparently equitable friendship in Florence and Rome with the major figures in European culture, including Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Johann Joachim Winckelmann, Benjamin West, Nathaniel Dance, and Sir Joshua Reynolds, and she portrayed the latter in 1767 looking relaxed and interested in the taskmaster keeping him posed (Roworth, Wendy Wassyng, ed. Angelica Kauffman: A Continental Artist in Georgian England, 1992, pl. 14). In 1781 she married the painter Antonio Zucchi (1726 - 1795), who did her and posterity the great favor of keeping meticulous records of all her commissions. The couple returned to Rome together in 1782, to the vocal distress of her London colleagues, who regretted her departure. Kauffmann spent time in Milan, Florence, Rome, and Naples, enjoying a lucrative career painting portraits of Englishmen on the Grand Tour. The latter part of her career was spent in the Eternal City, where she died in 1807. Antonio Canova himself undertook to arrange her funeral.

Mimi Cazort, from Italian Master Drawings at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (2004), cat. 63.

Baumgärtel, Bettina. Angelika Kauffinann (1741 - 1807): Bedingungen weiblicher Kreativität in der Malerei des 18. Jahrhunderts. Ergebnisse der Frauenforschung, vol. 20. Weinheim: Beltz, 1990;
Kunstmuseum Düsseldorf. Angelika Kauffmann. Traveling exhibition, 1998-99. Catalogue edited by Bettina Baumgartel. Ostfildern-Ruit, Germany: Gerd Hatje, 1998;
Rosenthal, Angela. "Angelica Kauffman Ma(s)king Claims." Art History, vol. 15, no. 1 (March 1992), pp. 38-59;
Rosenthal, Angela. Angelika Kauffmann: Bildnismalerei im 18. Jahrhundert. Berlin: Reimer, 1996;
Roworth, Wendy Wassyng. "Biography, Criticism, Art History: Angelica Kauffman in Context." In Eighteenth-Century Women and the Arts, edited by Frederick M. Keener and Susan E. Lorsch, pp. 209-23. Contributions in Women's Studies, no. 98. New York: Greenwood Press, 1988;
Roworth, Wendy Wassyng, ed. Angelica Kauffman: A Continental Artist in Georgian England. London: Reaktion in association with the Royal Pavilion Art Gallery and Museum (Brighton), 1992;
Roworth, Wendy Wassyng. "Angelika Kauffmann e gli artisti inglesi a Roma." In Rome, Accademia Nazionale di San Luca, Istituto Nazionale per la Grafica. Angelika Kauffmann e Roma. Exhibition catalogue edited by Oscar Sandner. Rome: De Luca, 1998, pp. xlix-lv.

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