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Documenting Angelica Kauffman's Life and Art
Wendy Wassyng Roworth
As one of the most active and productive artists of the eighteenth century, Angelica Kauffman created approximately 1,500 oil paintings, drawings, and prints, and her compositions were widely disseminated during and after her lifetime in the form of reproductive engravings and interior decoration, painted furniture, china, and textiles. Her distinctive and often sentimental images of Classical [End Page 478] and British history, allegories, and portraits were familiar to a broad international audience, and major exhibitions of her work during the last ten years in England, Austria, Germany, and Switzerland have brought her works to the attention of contemporary viewers. The story of Kauffman's life is also quite well known: her youthful talent and choice to pursue a painting career, her personal charm and industriousness, her role as a Founding Member of the Royal Academy of Arts in London, her scandalous marriage to an imposter and later marriage of companionship with the painter Antonio Zucchi, her international aristocratic clientele, friendships with great poets and painters, and her wealth and fame as a popular and celebrated Grand Tour artist in Italy. This picture of an extraordinary woman—a romantic female "hero" in a masculine profession—is based on factual evidence, but it was largely the creation of her biographer Giovanni Gherardo De Rossi bolstered by laudatory descriptions of Kauffman in diaries and letters written by admiring friends, patrons, and foreign travelers. The pleasing qualities of Kauffman's Neoclassical imagery, along with her cleverly conceived and idealized allegorical self-portraits and confident self-promotion, helped to reinforce a view of her as an accomplished artist who easily overcame all obstacles to achieve success.
A more nuanced and multifaceted understanding of Angelica Kauffman's life and art is now possible thanks to the publication of three books of documentary sources transcribed in their original languages along with notes and commentary. These documents, which include her husband Antonio Zucchi's handwritten record of Kauffman's 273 painting commissions executed in Italy between 1781 and 1798, the manuscript biography by her brother-in-law Giuseppe Carlo Zucchi that served as the basis for De Rossi's later published biography, and Kauffman's letters to family members, friends, patrons, publishers, business agents, and heads of state, are indispensable for all further studies of Kauffman. In addition, they provide information and insight into her numerous contacts and correspondents, who included, among many others, the poets Goethe, Herder, Frederike Brun, and Fortunata Fantastici, luminaries such as William and Emma Hamilton, Johann Winckelmann, Antonio Canova, Johann Caspar Lavater, Anna Amalia of Sachsen-Weimar, and King Ferdinand IV and Queen Carolina of Naples.
The most complete documentary record of Kauffman's paintings is Antonio Zucchi's "Memoria delle piture [sic] fatte d'Angelica Kauffman dopo il suo ritorno d'Inghilterra che fù nel mese d'otobre 1781, che si trovò a Venezia," which is preserved in the library of the Royal Academy of Arts, London. This manuscript, which lists the works she made in Italy after her return from England in 1781, has been widely known through an English translation by Stella Vitelleschi published in 1924 as the "Memorandum of Paintings" in the appendix of V. Manners and G. C. Williamson's Angelica Kauffmann. R.A. Her Life and Her Work. As Carlo Knight points out in the...