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  • Painting for Profit and Pleasure: Angelica Kauffman and the Art Business in Rome
  • Wendy Wassyng Roworth

In April 1786 Hester Lynch Piozzi wrote from Italy: “I must not quit Rome, however, without a word of Angelica Kauffman, who, though neither English nor Italian, has contrived to charm both nations, and her superior talents, both here and there. Besides her painting for which the world has been the judge, her conversation attract all people of taste to her house, which none can bear to leave without difficulty and regret.” 1 By the time of this visit to Rome, Kauffman was indeed at the height of her fame, well established as one of the stars of the international community in that city. Her studio had become a popular stop on the Grand Tour for fashionable visitors, dealers, painters, poets, and princes from all over Europe and Britain who wished to have their portraits made, to commission history paintings, or simply to participate in the evenings of conversation, poetry reading, and music with Kauffman and her husband, Antonio Zucchi, with whom she had settled in Rome in 1782. 2

Throughout her career in Rome Kauffman earned a steady flow of income from works which ranged from large paintings to decorative engravings, and the sheer volume as well as the variety of Kauffman’s artistic output is notable. The purpose of this paper is to explore Kauffman’s attitude towards her work—work which brought so much delight to her clients and profit to herself—through a study of the house in which she lived, some examples of her artistic production, and the comments of her friends.

Soon after their arrival in Rome Kauffman and Zucchi moved into a large house on the via Sistina, and in the following years they spent lavish sums on furniture, china, silver, linens, carriages and horses, books and paintings, all the accoutrements of fashionable life in Rome. 3 The house was entered through a large hall filled with plaster figures of well-known classical statues, followed by the major reception room which displayed, along with other works of art, an impressive collection of bound prints of Roman antiquities and engravings after the paintings of important Renaissance and seventeenth-century artists. 4 In 1805 a German visitor claimed that Kauffman’s house virtually “breathed Art.” In the Salon he noted, “her portrait made by Reynolds in London “hung between two beautiful heads by Van Dyck and Rembrandt.” 5 The “Rembrandt” was actually Kauffman’s own youthful copy made after his self-portrait in Florence, a painting that must have held special significance, for she kept this picture with her all [End Page 225] her life. 6 Kauffman’s Salon, with its classical statuary, ornately framed paintings, and fine books, provided an appropriate setting for a woman of taste, intellect, and artistic pursuits. Her portrait by the noted English painter Reynolds between her own copy of Rembrandt’s self-portrait and one by Van Dyck connected her as both image and artist with that masculine world of the great portrait painters of past and present. This was a suite of rooms calculated to impress and would have fulfilled the expectations of potential clients. In contrast to the formality of the reception rooms, Kauffman’s studio at the opposite end of the house, the site where she practiced her art, was cluttered with easels, palettes, brushes, stones for grinding pigments, jars of oil, mannequins, mirrored lamps, a pocket lens, and numerous other tools of the painter’s trade. 7

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Figure 1.

Angelica Kauffman, Portrait of David Ker, Rome, 1793 (David Ker collection, England) by kind permission of the owner.

Three portraits all made in 1793 can serve to illustrate the variety of Kauffman’s clients and her talent for flattering depictions that made her work seem easy. A half-length portrait of the novelist Cornelia Knight (Manchester, City Art Gallery, 37 3/4 × 31 1/2 in.) painted “par amicizia,” out of friendship, shows her with several of her books and a pencil, for, as noted in by Kauffman, she loved to draw. 8 A cameo at her waist bears a profile portrait of...

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