Angelica Maria Anna Katarina Kauffman was born in Chur, Switzerland, in 1747 into the family of the painter Johann Joseph Kauffman, who gave her an excellent education in the arts. Angelica was very gifted, demonstrating brilliant painting skills, a talent for music, a superb memory and an amazing capacity for languages. As a child, she could speak French, German, Italian and English.
Between 1742 and 1757, the family lived in Italy, where J. J. Kauffman had found patronage, moving between Milan, Venice, Naples and Florence. As early as 1754, at the age of 12, Angelica was helping her father with his work on frescoes and portraits. In 1757 they moved to Schwarzberg (now Austria). The family travelled a lot, the father seeking clients among the Swiss and German aristocracy. In 1758, Angelica was again in Florence, where she met Benjamin West. In 1762, she visited Rome for the first time. In July 1764, the artist painted the widely acclaimed Portrait of Winckelmann, which greatly boosted her reputation. In 1765, she became a member of the St. Luke Academy (Accademia di San Luca) in Rome.
In 1766, Kauffman accompanied Lady Wentworth to England, where her portraits of the nobility were a great success. Under the influence of English romantic literature she executed paintings of subjects from Alexander Pope and Laurence Sterne. Kauffman also tried her hand at classical subjects, depicting scens from Homer's Illiad and Odyssey, and Virgil's Aeneid. In 1767, the painter got married, but this marriage lasted only a few months before being dissolved.
She lived in London until 1781 and became the first woman in England to be admitted to the Royal Academy. In 1781, she married Antonio Zucchi (1726-95), a Venetian painter, who worked with the brothers Robert and James Adam in England. Together with him, she returned to Italy in 1781, stopping in Venice, where she was elected an honorary member of the Venetian Academy. Her studio was visited by Grand Duke Pavel Petrovich, future Russian Emperor Paul I.
From 1781 till 1807 she lived and worked in Rome, settling in a mansion that had formerly belonged to Anton Raphael Mengs, a close friend of hers. Her studio was the most famous in the city, and a gathering place for notable poets, artists and thinkers of the day. She was a friend of the great German writer and statesman Johann Wolfgang Goethe, archeologist and art critic J. J. Winckelmann, the Polish King Stanislaus II August Poniatowski and many other outstanding people of the late 19th Century.
Unlike many female artists of the period, Kauffman was very popular and wealthy in her time. She painted allegorical, mythological and historical subjects, as well as subjects from literature and portraits. They are mostly treated in the sentimental fashion of the 18th century. In the paintings of her early Roman period, drawing prevails over coloring, which shows her interest in Mengs and the aesthetic ideas of neo-classicism. In later works on mythological subjects, the archeological accuracy of details was increased and theatrical effects appeared. The works of Kauffman were widely known in Europe due to engravings by other artists.
Kauffman died in 1807, in Rome. She was buried in a lavish funeral procession,
the greatest for any artist since the death of Raphael,
some three centuries prior.
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Painting of Europe. XIII-XX centuries. Encyclopedic Dictionary. Moscow. Iskusstvo. 1999.
Angelica Kauffmann, R.A. 1741-1807 by Dorothy M. Mayer. Dufour Editions, 1972.
Angelica Kauffman: A Continental Artist in Georgian England by Wendy Wassyng Roworth. Reaktion Books, 1993.
Angelica Kauffmann, R. A., her life and her works by Victoria Manners. Hacker Art Books, 1976.