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 introduction to his edition of the original Italian text published in the "Archivo" series of the Accademia Nazionale di San Luca, Rome, the Vitelleschi translation contained numerous inaccuracies, misinterpretations, and gaps. Moreover, the translator did not recognize or account for differences in handwriting and format, an observation I first noted in a 1984 article in Burlington Magazine where I concluded that the majority of the manuscript was written by Zucchi before his death in 1795, while additional notes on seven small notebook pages and two larger loose sheets were Kauffman's own. Knight's transcription adheres closely to both the original format and content of the text, including variations of spelling, indications of where lines have been struck through and changed, and he describes the differences among the four [End Page 479] distinct sections. His precise reading of the original text makes this edition a more accurate practical resource for identifying Kauffman's paintings, where and when they were produced, their subjects, and her various clients. Each entry is headed by the name of the commissioner of the painting followed by the work's measurements, subject, description, price, and sometimes a literary source or additional comment. The place and date of production—e.g., a Roma, genaro 1783—appears in the margin to the left of each entry in italic script. In the footnotes Knight identifies some of the patrons and subjects of the pictures, and he indicates omissions, misreadings, and mistranslations in the Vitelleschi text in order to rectify misinterpretations. For example, in Venice in March 1782 Kauffman produced an allegorical painting of three figures representing Beauty led by Prudence and crowned by Merit ("la Bellezza guidata dalla prudenza e coronatta dal Merito"). Vitelleschi misread "Merito" as "Marito" thus mistaking the subject for "Beauty crowned by the Husband" (12). Knight corrects other similar mistakes and problematic readings, and apart from one or two errors he missed, which other scholars have subsequently corrected, such as reading the name "Tullia" for "Julia, Moglie di Pompeo" (31), this is an excellent edition that will continue to serve as an essential source.
The two loose folded sheets in Kauffman's hand, identified in Knight's edition as Kauff/3 and Kauff/4, provide a descriptive list of her most important pictures painted between 1788 and 1798. These include "Cornelia, Mother of the Gracchi, showing her Children as her Treasures" and its pendant "Junius Brutus Condemning his Sons to Death" (1788) commissioned by Prince Poniatowski, "Venus Persuading Helen to Love Paris" (1790) for Prince Yusopov, "The Infant Pyrrhus saved from the Massacre of the Royal Family of Epirus and brought to Illyria before King Glaucus" (1795) for Count Brown of Livonia, and a life size portrait of Augustus Frederick, Prince of Wales (1795). She undoubtedly prepared this for her brother-in-law, the Venetian printmaker Giuseppe Carlo Zucchi, who was writing her biography. This biography was never completed or published, but the manuscript was passed on to his nephew Dr. Francesco Zucchi and subsequently to Giovanni Gherardo De Rossi, who used it as the basis for his Vita di Angelica Kauffmann, pittrice (Florence, 1810). The Vorarlberger Landesmuseum in Bregenz, Austria, holds the only known existing manuscript of Zucchi's text, and Helmut Swozilek, Director of the Vorarlberger Landesmuseum, has produced an admirable study and edition of this work, Memorie istoriche di Maria Angelica Kauffmann Zucchi riguardanti l'arte della pittura da lei professata scritte da G.C.Z. (Giuseppe Carlo Zucchi), Venezia MDCCLXXXVIII. His publication includes a transcription of the 47 page Italian text of 1788, a statement of the prices Kauffman charged for various sizes and types of paintings, the manuscript index of the unfinished "seconda part," consisting of a list of 52 of Kauffman's later works, and an 1804 note in which Zucchi transferred his unfinished text to his nephew Francesco, who he hoped would complete it. Each part is followed by a German translation with extensive notes and photographic reproductions of the manuscript pages. Swozilek's introduction traces the history of the manuscript and describes its condition, size, binding, and provenance as well as its significance. His extensive and thorough notes to the text identify people, places, and works of art cited and provide historical background with numerous references. Small black and white illustrations of some of Kauffman's drawings and paintings, works by other artists, engravings of places she lived and important buildings, famous people, and publications, also accompany the German text. A selected bibliography, a chronology of Kauffman's life, and a transcription of a [End Page 480] related manuscript, which is a condensed version of Zucchi's work and entitled "Notizie di Maria Angelica Kauffman per servire all' istoria della pitura da lei professata scritte l'anno 1794 in Venezia" (Getty Research Institute, Special Collections), edited and translated by Gertrud Graubart Champe and Waltraud Maierhofer, round out this exceptionally thorough publication.
The G.C. Zucchi biography is an interesting document as much for what was left out as for what he included. There is no mention of Kauffman's notorious first marriage nor her important connections with the Royal Academy and British artists, including Joshua Reynolds, Benjamin West, and Nathaniel Dance, and the incident of Nathaniel Hone's painting "The Conjuror" which mocked Kauffman and Reynolds, even though Zucchi was in England and worked with Kauffman in the 1760's and 1770's. He does, however, mention the engravers Ryland, Bartolozzi, and Burke, who made reproductions of Kauffman's pictures, which is not surprising for a man who shared their profession. Kauffman's friendship with Goethe during his Italian journey in 1786 and 1787 is also absent as are other German poets and artists. Zucchi focused his attention on Kauffman's family, early years, training, and travels in Italy, and he described her youthful talent, ambition, virtue, and modesty. The famous story of her choice of painting over music, an anecdote later embellished by De Rossi and commemorated by Kauffman in two grand allegorical self portraits (1791, 1794), is told here for the first time. Other episodes, including her marriage to Antonio Zucchi, her father's illness and death in Venice, major commissions, and important patrons in Italy, can be recognized as the source for much of De Rossi's Vita di Angelica Kauffmann. Zucchi's aim was to praise Kauffman as "illustre Artista e gran Donna," and Swozilek's superb annotated edition makes this important primary source accessible to scholars.
Waltraud Maierhofer's publication of 180 of Angelica Kauffman's letters in Angelika Kauffmann. "Mir träumte vor ein paar Nächten, ich hätte Briefe von Ihnen empfange" is a model of meticulous research and editing. Kauffman's international popularity may be attributed in part to her fluency in four languages—German, Italian, English, and French—and this compilation demonstrates that she was equally adept with words on paper. This is the first publication of Kauffman's letters in their original languages, except for Maierhofer's own shorter book Briefe einer Malerin (Mainz, 1999), and while these are not her complete correspondence—many letters are lost, inaccessible, or destroyed—this compilation represents the diversity of Kauffman's correspondence and writing styles, which range from expressions of sentimental sympathy to details of prosaic business matters. Her correspondence documents her personal and professional interests and serves as an important source of information regarding the artist's travels, painting commissions, family, finances, and other affairs. Maierhofer's decision to present them in their original languages together with her excellent comprehensive notes make this an essential resource and a significant contribution to Kauffman and epistolary studies.
These letters written between 1762 and 1807, the year of her death, are arranged chronologically so that it is possible to follow the development of her life and career from a twenty-one year old expressing her gratification to the Accademia di Belle Arti di Firenze for granting her membership, to a mature and accomplished woman corresponding with some of the greatest European writers. Her correspondents included the Venetian sculptor Antonio Canova, the English novelist Cornelia Knight, and, perhaps most famously, Johann Wolfgang von [End Page 481] Goethe. Since early in the nineteenth century many of Kauffman's letters have been quoted in whole or part in biographies, journal articles, and books, such as Eugen Thurner's Angelika Kauffmann und die deutsche Dichtung (Bregenz, 1966), in translation or in the original languages in which Kauffman wrote them. Her English biographers Manners and Williamson (1924) and Frances Gerard (1892), for example, quoted from a number of Kauffman's letters in English translation, but Maierhofer's research demonstrates that these publications were frequently fragmentary, transcribed incorrectly, or inadequately translated. She tracked down many of the original letters in archives and collections in Italy, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, England, and the United States, and her notes indicate where and when letters were previously published or if this is their first time in print. The result is a much more comprehensive and reliable resource.
Twenty-seven of the published letters were written to Joseph Anton Metzler, her cousin and business agent in her father's native village Schwarzenberg, where she inherited property, and after her husband Antonio Zucchi died in 1795 she corresponded regularly with her London bankers and agents Kuhff and Grellet. These letters and others to clients and patrons express warm concern for distant family and friends and disclose details of her health and social life as well as financial and business matters. Her letters to Goethe, Johann Heinrich Meyer, and other artists contain opinions on art, her work, and collecting, but her most revealing and affectionate letters are those written to female correspondents, especially her English friend Henrietta Fordyce, Anna Amalia von Sachsen-Weimar, who had been her neighbor during the Duchess's sojourn in Rome, and the Florentine poet Fortuna Sulgher Fantastici, Kauffman's "Amica Cara ed Amabillissima," to whom she wrote about her work and expressed appreciation for both her friend's poetry and her children.
The edited texts of the letters, which take up about half the book, are followed by a short epilogue in which Maierhofer discusses Kauffman's correspondence within the context of eighteenth-century epistolary culture and women's lives and analyzes how Kauffman expressed herself in different types of letters. The next section of the book contains extensive notes and commentary for each letter with indication of its location, if known, and previous publication, bibliographic references, German summaries for those in Italian and French, and selected excerpts from letters written to Kauffman. The volume concludes with a bibliography of sources on Kauffman as well as books on artists' letters and eighteenth-century women's epistolary exchange in addition to a chronology and annotated list of Kauffman's correspondents and other persons cited in the letters. The only thing missing is an index, which would make this rich resource easier to use, but apart from that Maierhofer's impressive work is a significant contribution to Kauffman scholarship.
All three of these books demonstrate the value of re-examining and publishing primary textual sources. While it is always desirable to examine original documents in archival collections, just as it is always best to see original artworks, this is not always possible, so that publications like these edited volumes of letters, memoirs, inventories and similar manuscript materials provide an invaluable service to scholars. Angelica Kauffman, who is already well known through her paintings and prints, may now be more widely appreciated through her words and the words of those who were closest to her.