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Angelika Kauffmann 1741–1807

WHEN THE CHURCH BELLS STARTED CHIMING IN ROME ON 7 NOVEMBER 1807, A FUNERAL WAKE, WORTHY OF A STATESMAN, SWOLLEN WITH PROMINENT FIGURES, MADE ITS WAY TOWARDS SAN ANDREA DELLA FRATTE. IN THE COFFIN CARRIED AND ACCOMPANIED BY THE DIRECTORS OF VARIOUS ART ACADEMIES, INCLUDING SCULPTOR ANTONIO CANOVA AND OTHER WELLKNOWN ARTISTS AND DIGNITARIES FROM COUNTLESS COUNTRIES, WAS THE MORTAL COIL OF THE FAMOUS ARTIST ANGELIKA KAUFFMANN1, ‘LOVED AND RESPECTED BY ALL’.

The ‘artist of the peop­le’, the ‘may­be most cul­tu­red woman in Euro­pe’ as descri­bed by Her­der, was paid her last respects in a ‘solemn fun­e­ral, the likes of which had last been seen at Raphael’s wake.’ Two of her last pic­tures, Jesus and the Sama­ri­tan woman at the well4 and David and Nathan, flan­ked her cof­fin, moving the swath of mour­ning onloo­kers to tears. They bid fare­well to a pain­ter who had beco­me rich and suc­cess­ful, a rare feat even among today’s artists. She’d uncom­pro­mi­sin­gly dedi­ca­ted her who­le life to art and built a cir­cle of influ­en­ti­al patrons and admi­rers on the back of her smart net­wor­king, her excel­lent hos­ting and a nose for busi­ness. She worked at her Lon­don ate­lier bet­ween 1766 and 1781, then moving to Rome whe­re it beco­me the mee­ting point for her inter­na­tio­nal cli­en­te­le. The spi­ri­tu­al eli­te of the Enligh­ten­ment, repre­sen­ted by Winckel­mann, Goe­the, and Her­der, but also Emperors and Queens, royal­ty and pri­va­te citi­zens from all over Euro­pe and over­seas were her friends and cli­ents, inclu­ding Aus­tri­an Emperor Joseph II., Rus­si­an Czar Katha­ri­na II. or the Eng­lish Queen Char­lot­te v. Mecklenburg-Strelitz.

Kauffmann was a wun­der­kind alrea­dy at the ten­der age of eleven. 

As an only child, she bene­fi­ted from her father’s know­ledge, pain­ter Johann Joseph Kauf­mann from Schwar­zen­berg in Vor­arl­berg, an advan­ta­ge­ous star­ting point for an artist, who­se con­tem­pora­ry col­leagues bare­ly expe­ri­en­ced the same amount of edu­ca­ti­on she did. At first, her por­traits brought her suc­cess, then moving to his­to­ri­cal, mytho­lo­gi­cal, and alle­go­ri­cal sce­nes, making her a feted mas­ter of the clas­si­cal gen­re. She left behind an oeu­vre of around 800 oil pain­tings, 400 drawings, 41 engra­vings as well as a cycle of fres­coes she’d alrea­dy com­ple­ted at the age of 15 for the Church in Schwar­zen­berg. Her works spur­red a raft of over 600 engra­vings as well as count­less copy­cat works, emu­la­ti­ons, and for­ge­ries, an indi­ca­ti­on of her unwa­vering popu­la­ri­ty that still con­ti­nues to this very day.

The artist was born in Chur in Grau­bün­den on 30 Octo­ber 1741, and was brought up in Ita­li­ans­pea­king Velt­lin; she trai­ned in Ita­ly and Vor­arl­berg bet­ween 1752 and 1766, and spo­ke four lan­guages from a very young age as well as per­forming on the court sta­ges in Ita­ly as a sin­ger. She beca­me a mem­ber of the Bolo­gna, Flo­rence, Rome, and Veni­ce Aca­de­mies as ear­ly as 1762. Her pain­tings about old Eng­lish histo­ry such as Vor­ti­gern and Rowe­na or Edward and Eleano­ra, beca­me the cor­ner­stone of Bri­tish Histo­ry of Art and, the­re­fo­re, she was appoin­ted as foun­ding mem­ber of the Roy­al Aca­de­my in Lon­don. Tog­e­ther with Mary Moser, a pain­ter spe­cia­li­sing in still life, they were the sole two women mem­bers for 200 years. In 1764, Kauffmann laid the foun­da­ti­ons for her ambi­tious goal in Rome with Bac­chus and Ariadne3: she wan­ted to make a care­er out of sto­ries and myths. Por­traits were the quick bre­ad­win­ner, yet her suc­cess was the result of her inno­va­ti­ve por­trait of J. J. Winckelmann5 (Zurich, Kunsthaus).

Under the patro­na­ge of the Eng­lish Queen, she crea­ted lar­ge por­traits of the mon­arch in Lon­don. Soon it beca­me com­mon cour­te­sy to be immor­ta­li­sed by the young talent. Kauf­mann con­tri­bu­t­ed to the renais­sance of anti­qui­ty in art by depic­ting sce­nes from the works of Vir­gil and Homer (e.g. Fare­well of Hec­tor, Sal­tram Collec­tion, Nat. Trust; Pene­lo­pe awa­ke­ned by Euryclea7. With her small repre­sen­ta­ti­ons of women loved and scor­ned, the artist beca­me the pre­cur­sor of ‘sen­si­ti­vi­ty’ in art, and her work the embo­di­ment of the sen­ti­men­tal and huma­nistic ide­al of the beau­ti­ful soul. Her name was on everybody’s lips, as pro­ved by the count­less cop­per­pla­te engra­vings of her works in the new stipp­le tech­ni­que which had spread all over Euro­pe. Fur­ni­tu­re, tex­ti­les, chi­na, and every other kind of knick-knacks were crea­ted based on her oeu­vre. Moreo­ver, Kauf­mann expert­ly adap­ted the Van-Dyck- and Ori­en­tal trend for her por­traits, thus beco­m­ing the first port of call of the por­trait mar­ket of the fashioncon­scious Eng­lish society.

The high­light of her care­er in Eng­land was reached in 1780 with four cei­ling pain­tings: Inven­ti­on, Com­po­si­ti­on, Design and Colou­ring com­mis­sio­ned by the Roy­al Aca­de­my. Bes­i­des deli­vering an inte­res­ting con­cept, once again she reve­als her sen­se for deli­ca­te colours and tex­ti­les crea­ted with a light brush tech­ni­que, the ‘penel­lo volan­te’. Befo­re Kauf­mann ope­ned her ate­lier in Rome in the Palaz­zo on the Spa­nish steps, once owned by Anton Rapha­el Mengs, she ans­we­red the call of Queen Maria Karo­li­ne and went to Nap­les to paint the Por­trait of the Roy­al Fami­ly of Nap­les in a colos­sal for­mat (1784, Nap­les, Capo­di­mon­te Muse­um) as well as a raft of his­to­ri­cal pain­tings inclu­ding Cor­ne­lia, the Mother of the Gracchi6. Kauffmann the­re­fo­re repre­sen­ted bra­ve woman as heroes at the cent­re of her sto­ries even befo­re the French Revo­lu­ti­on, and cha­rac­te­ri­sed the new idea of femi­ni­ne traits from the Enlightenment.

In Kauffmann’s salon, prai­sed as the ‘temp­le of fema­le glo­ry‘, pro­mi­nent figu­res and talen­ted poe­tes­ses met, inclu­ding Tere­sa Ban­detti­ni-Lan­duc­ci2. Many of the peop­le were immor­ta­li­sed by Kauf­mann in lively por­traits for pos­teri­ty. Kauffmann was prai­sed as the fema­le Rapha­el of art, and yet it’s still sur­pri­sing that she was the only woman who­se bust was pla­ced in the Roman Pan­the­on, right next to Raphael’s, of cour­se. The recep­ti­on of her life and work is oversha­do­wed by her gen­der and fema­le cli­chés to this very day. Her work was only recent­ly taken serious­ly as a result of a well-thought artis­tic pro­cess, while in the past it was con­si­de­red a ‘fema­le hob­by’ led by emo­ti­ons. Alrea­dy during Kaufmann’s time, her life was the stuff of gos­sip, even fea­turing in thea­tri­cal pie­ces and novels. To this very day, many bio­graph­ers rese­arch her love life, detrac­ting from her ser­vices ren­de­red as one of the most important artists of the past in Euro­pe. An important ele­ment which will pro­vi­de an expert and ratio­nal assess­ment of her per­for­mance will be the cata­lo­gue rai­son­né being com­pi­led as we speak by the aut­hor of this article.

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seit 1990 Leiterin des Angelika Kauffmann Research Project_ AKRP, www.angelika-kauffmann.de 1993 Wissenschaftliche Mitarbeiterin, 1995 Leiterin der Graphischen Sammlung, ab 2000 Leiterin der Gemäldesammlung und des Dokumentationszentrums Düsseldorfer Malerschule (DDM) am Museum Kunstpalast, Düsseldorf; zahlreiche Ausstellungen und Publikationen sowie Vorträge auf internationalen Tagungen zur Malerei und Graphik des 16. bis 21. Jhs., Schwerpunkt Malerei des 18. und 19. Jhs.

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