Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Angelica Kauffman

Ariadne Abandoned by Theseus
oil on canvas
90.9 × 63.8 cm
The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas, USA

Angelica Kauffmann (1741-1807) was a Swiss painter, active mainly in Italy and England. Her work consists of several history paintings, altarpieces and portraits. Among her favoured motifs are also motifs from contemporary poetry and rococo-like genre scenes. She gained the friendship of the most famous poets, scientists and artists of her time with her outstanding literacy and her gracefulness and became the most famous female painter of the 18th century. She was the founding member of the Royal Academy of Arts and one of London’s most sought-after portraitists. She is also well known by the numerous engravings from her designs by Schiavonetti, Francesco Bartolozzi and others.

As a child prodigy, she was trained by her father, the Swiss muralist Johann Joseph Kauffman. Her father accepted several appointments in Switzerland and Upper Italy. Already at the age of six, Angelica helped him and attracted attention with her talent. During the early 1760s, she traveled through Switzerland, Austria, and Italy working as her father’s assistant. This transient life provided her the rare opportunity for a woman to see and copy many classical and Renaissance masterworks and to meet leaders of the popular new movement known as Neoclassicism. During a three-year stay in Italy, she made her reputation as a painter of portraits; she also produced history paintings.

In 1766, she moved to London, where she celebrated her largest social and artistic successes as a portraitist. Over the next 16 years, she exhibited regularly at the prestigious Royal Academy and worked for a glittering array of aristocratic and royal patrons. She was accepted at the newly founded Royal Academy in 1768.

In 1781, she married a Venetian painter and settled in Venice. Soon, they moved to Rome and bought the house of the painter. In Rome, a splendid social life developed around her. Several foreign guests, among which were the Duchesses Amalie von Weimar and Luise von Anhalt-Dessau, Emperor Joseph II., crown prince Ludwig von Bayern, Goethe, Herder, Tischbein and the painter Philipp Hacker payed her a visit. Goethe called her in a letter to Weimar "die .... vielleicht kultivierteste Frau Europas" ("the most accomplished woman in Europe").

After her husbands death in 1795, she barely left her hometown. She died in Rome. By the time of her death, she had achieved such renown that her funeral was directed by the prominent Neoclassical sculptor Antonio Canova, who based it on the funeral of the Renaissance master Raphael.