Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan
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Friday, October 30, 2015

Angelica Kauffman, Prodigy and Painter

Angelica Kauffman (born 30 October 1741)


If yesterday's "prodigy," Anna Maria Mozart (1751-1829), was denied a career that would allow her to develop her manifest gifts, her near-contemporary, Angelica Kauffman, by contrast, was able to have a fulfilling and successful career.

Angelica Kauffman, self-portrait
Interestingly, both young women were recognized for their prodigious talents by their fathers, trained by their fathers, and toured with their fathers. Interestingly, although Angelica Kauffman is now known as a painter, she was also a noted performer, and at one point, like Maria Anna Mozart, she is described as a singer comparable to the best Roman "virtuosi."

Born in Switzerland, Kaufmann accompanied her father, the painter Joseph Johann Kaufmann, as he traveled throughout Switzerland, Austria, and Italy, working as his assistant. From her mother, Cleophea Lutz, she learned languages, adding Italian, French, and English to her native German.

Her travels with her father, particularly in Milan, Bologna, Florence, Venice, and Rome, exposed her to great art and, in turn, introduced her to many who could appreciate her accomplishments. She excelled not only in portraits but, more unusual for a woman, history paintings (a prestigious and lucrative genre). In 1765, she was elected to Rome’s Accademia di San Luca.

In 1766, Kaufmann moved to London at the encouragement of Lady Bridget Wentworth Murray, wife of the British ambassador to the Ottomon Empire. In London, Kauffman gained great popularity. She became a founding member of the Royal Academy, where she would exhibit regularly for eighteen years.

Shortly after arriving in London, she married a man variously described as an imposter or a bigamist, a "bogus" count named "von Horn." She was also the subject of scandal and rumor for her relationship to the aging painter Sir Joshua Reynolds. As Germaine Greer notes, the "price Angelica Kaufmann paid for being the rage was a very high one." She became a "slave to the fashion that she herself had created," her "unenviable economic situation" demanding that she paint quickly and that she did not "fail to please."

The parting of Hector and Andromache

Although she lived separately from her unfortunate "husband" (to whom she may not have been actually married, since he seems already to have had a wife), Kauffman married a painter, Antonio Zucchi, and returned to Rome. There she continued to paint, and she also continued to exhibit at the Royal Academy. She continued, as well, to receive numerous commissions.

Kauffman died in Rome on 5 November 1807. Her catalogue raisonnĂ© (that is, the comprehensive list of all her paintings, drawings, etchings, and reproductions [engravings] of her work) includes 800 works and some 1000 engravings.

Penelope with the bow of Odysseus

There are several good biographies, but I like Angelica Goodden's Miss Angel: The Art and World of Angelica Kauffman.

You could hardly hope for more than the material available at the Angelica Kauffman Research Project: detailed biography, catalogue, bibliography. There is a gallery of 88 paintings at the BBC Your Paintings, which you can access by clicking here.

Update (30 October 2016): If you are interested in Angelica Kaufman, who became a member of the Royal Academy, you may be interested in Elizabeth Thompson, who was not so lucky. You can read her story by clicking here