Friday, March 29, 2019


Angelica Kauffman:
A Condensed Version of Her Time in This World

by Marnie Elaine Schenk Hurwitz

Swiss/Austrian History, Portraitist, and Neoclassical Painter
Born on October 30, 1741 and died on November 5, 1807

Self-Portrait by Angelica Kauffman 1784, Oil on Canvas, Collection of The Neue Pinakothek, Munich, Germany


Johann Joseph Kauffman, Angelica Kauffman’s father, was a journeyman who traveled throughout Europe looking for work. He primarily painted religious scenes onto the walls of churches but he also painted portraits. He was always in search of new opportunities for work. He decided to move from his birthplace of Schwarzenberg, Austria to Chur, Switzerland in 1736. Chur, Switzerland was a very busy trading place, so there were many people who might want to hire him. Josef Benedik Rost, the Prince-Bishop of Chur in 1739 asked Johann to be his court painter. Johann accepted this position. 

During the time that he was living in Chur he met and fell in love with Cleofea Luz. Cleofea Luz's parents were of noble birth and were very wealthy at one time, so she had connections with powerful people. 

Josef and Cleofea got married in November of 1740 and they became parents to Angelica on October 30, 1741. 

Angelica was the name of a nun, whom Cleofea and her family knew. That nun, was part of the de Salis family who ruled the province of Valtellina in Italy, Angelica’s future home. The de Salis family would become the patrons of both Johann and Angelica. 


Johann moved the family away from Chur to Morbegno, Italy in 1742, when Angelica was only one year old, because work dried up in Chur (They lived in Italy from 1742-1766). He found work in Morbegno decorating churches. Then after spending many years in Morbegno, he moved his family to Lake Como, Italy. They lived in Naples, and other towns in Italy until they finally wound up in Rome. There were two reasons why he wanted to live in Rome. The first reason was that he needed to make money. He could find more clients for his portrait painting business and he would be able to paint murals in the many churches there. The second reason was to enable his daughter to continue her art studies by going to the museums there and studying from the master paintings. Johann also decided to teach her how to draw and paint. He knew that he was raising a child who displayed talents beyond her years. He saw that she was able to do a classical style self-portrait at the age of 12. She painted this self-portrait in 1753 when the family lived in Morbegno, Italy.

Self-Portrait by Angelica Kauffman, 1753, Oil  Collection of Tiroler Landesmuseen Ferdinandeum, Austria

Her father would take her with him to help him paint religious figures on the inside walls of churches. He sent her to art school but he had to dress her up as a little boy because the art school would not allow girls to study there. This discrimination against females studying in classrooms where there were nude male models would follow her the rest of her life. She had to study from drawings of male anatomy that she obtained from the men that she knew. She also had to copy from old master paintings, sculptures, and cast models. Later on in her life, she would be unfairly criticized by male artists for anatomical mistakes she might have made in her paintings of men.

 Angelica needed to get permission from the bishops and the Pope to enter the museums and copy from the paintings. They gave her permission to do this. Angelica copied a Rembrandt at the age of 18.

Angelica Kauffman after Rembrandt, ~1760, Pencil/Chalk, Collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, UK


Cleofea Luz, Angelica’s mother, was a very intelligent person. In addition to her natural tongue of Swiss German, she also could speak English, French, and Italian. She wanted her daughter to become a linguist so she taught her daughter how to speak these languages. She also encouraged Angelica to sing and learn how to play various musical instruments. Angelica learned how to play the glass harpsichord, guitar, and harmonica. Angelica had a remarkable soprano voice and her mind was able to absorb how to play all of these instruments. She loved to sing and play music as much as she loved painting. Her mother was also in a position to help her daughter to make connections with the aristocrats and titled people of Europe which helped Angelica get "sitters" for her portrait painting business.

Angelica could have had a career in music and possibly could have become an opera singer. She had to choose between a career in singing or painting. Her father advised her to stay away from the entertainment world because he felt that there were bad people in that business. She listened to her father and decided to make a career out of painting. She never got over her love of music. She would continue to play the guitar and the other instruments and also sing. When she became an adult she would choose to live in areas of Rome where the musicians lived so she would be surrounded by music. She would even put symbols of music and art into the backgrounds of some of her paintings so people would be aware of her love of both forms of art. Here is a painting that shows Angelica torn between music and art.

Self-Portrait Hesistating Between Music and Art" by Angelica Kauffman, 1791, in The St. Oswald Collection, Nostell Priority, (National Trust) England

Angelica's mother died in Rome on March 1, 1757 when Angelica was only 15 years old. Her death was a shock to Angelica and her father since they did not expect her to die; it had a profound impact on her. Angelica had a very close relationship with her father which probably helped her through her grief. Johann Joseph Kauffman then decided to visit his native village in Schwarzenberg, Austria with Angelica from 1757-1759. While there Angelica was busy painting her father's side of the family in their regional native dress and the particular hair style of the women in the village. She painted two portraits of herself in native dress. The first painting was completed in 1757; the second one in 1759. When they returned to Italy, the second self portrait completed in 1759 was eventually hung in the Uffizi.  In that painting she portrayed herself in native dress, holding a palette and brush.

Self-Portrait in the Traditional Costume of the Bregenz Forest, with Brush and Palette, by Angelica Kauffman,1759, Oil on Canvas, Collection of The Uffizi Gallery, Florence, Italy


While Angelica was still living in Italy, she sent her portrait painting of David Garrick(English 1717-1779) to London to be exhibited at the Free Society of Artists in 1765. David Garrick was a very influential producer of plays and also an actor at Drury Lane theater in England. The painter, Sir Joshua Reynolds (English 1723-1792) saw this portrait of David Garrick and was very impressed with it. 

Portrait of David Garrick  by Angelica Kauffman, 1764, Collection of the Burghley House, Stamford, England

Angelica Kauffman decided to move to England in 1766. It was a good time for Angelica to move to England since it was the time of the Industrial Revolution. Angelica was an extremely ambitious woman. She would make engravings of her works and sell them. Angelica would allow outside engravers to copy parts of her history paintings and transfer the images to gold, linens, Meissen and Sevres porcelain dinnerware and other household objects. She even allowed furniture to be painted with images of her paintings. These objects would then be shipped to places as far away as China. She was a very astute businesswoman. Her father probably taught her how to handle business deals. He was in charge of her finances. Angelica's dreams of becoming famous around the world came true.

Angelica and Sir Joshua Reynolds became friends when Angelica moved to England.  Sir Joshua Reynolds knew that Angelica had an extremely good relationship with the King and Queen of England, King George III and Queen Charlotte. So he asked Angelica to make an appointment with them to speak on his behalf with the purpose to allow him to use the word "royal" as part of the name of an art school that he wanted to establish. He wanted the school to be called the Royal Academy of Arts. His vision for the school was to produce English painters who would be better than the painters on the European continent. He wanted to make England the center of the arts. Angelica succeeded in her mission. So Sir Joshua Reynolds was allowed to call his school the Royal Academy of Arts.

Sir Joshua Reynolds was being lobbied by Queen Charlotte to make Angelica a founding member of the Royal Academy of Arts. The Queen was very impressed with Angelica's paintings as well as her friend. Sir Joshua Reynolds decided to make Angelica a founding member of his school, not solely based on the basis of the Queen's lobbying efforts, but because he was extremely impressed with her historical paintings. Angelica was one of the first women to paint history paintings. He felt that her painting skill made her worthy of this honor. He was also impressed with her portraits. Sir Joshua Reynolds exhibited many of her history and portrait paintings at the Academy. Angelica became a founding member of the Academy in 1768 when the school was established. The only other female member of the Academy was Mary Moser (English 1744-1819) whose specialty was floral painting. She was also from Switzerland like Angelica.

Angelica made a name for herself with the kings, queens, empresses, and emperors of Europe. She had good relationships with the bishops and the Pope. Angelica was at 25, an established portrait, neoclassical and historical painter on the European continent.  


She was commissioned to paint portraits and history paintings for many influential and powerful people in Europe. She painted portraits and commissions for:
 1. Sir Joshua Reynolds, 1767
2. Queen of Naples (Maria Carolina) and her husband, 1782-3
3. Emperor Joseph II of Austria (the Ruler of the Holy Roman Empire) in 1784 
4. Catherine II (Empress of Russia) commissioned a history painting, ~1782
 5. Benjamin West painted in 1762 for the Uffizi 
6. Johann Wolfgang Goethe painted in 1787
7.  Nathanial Dance painted around 1765 
8.Duchess of Brunswick painted in 1767
9. David Garrick (influential English producer and actor) painted in 1764
10. Johann Joachim Winckelmann (art historian known as the father of Art History), painted in 1764 

Portrait of Johann Joachim Winckelmann, by Angelica Kauffman, 1764, Oil, Collection of Kunthaus Museum, Zurich, Switzerland

The list above of people that she did portraits of is only a partial list. There are too many people that she did portraits of to acknowledge in this article. There are many self portraits that she painted over the decades. She did not always like her own self portraits and would paint them again until she was pleased with the results. Angelica was so much in demand that people would seek her out to have their portraits painted by her.


Angelica Kauffman's first history painting is Bacchus Discovering Ariadne, Deserted by Theseus, on Naxos painted in 1764. This painting made people stand up and take notice of her as a historical painter. She was one of the first women to paint history paintings. It gave her the acclaim that she was yearning for. Emperor Joseph II, the Ruler of the Holy Roman Emperor, commissioned two history paintings from Angelica. Those paintings that he commissioned from Angelica are Hermann and Thusnelda,  and also Pallas Killed by Turnus, 1785. Her other history paintings are: 

1. His Beloved Campaspe 1782/1783. 
2. Andromache and Hecuba Weeping Over the Ashes of Hector 

She continued to paint history paintings as well as portrait paintings when she moved to England in 1766. Her clients wanted her to paint history paintings for the interiors of their mansions. She would paint murals on the walls of their living rooms, and bedrooms. Angelica would paint scenes which she obtained from Greek mythology, Homer's Iliad, and beloved Roman fables. She would paint scenes about victorious Roman armies which the leaders of Rome praised. In order to honor certain clients Angelica would paint their images into her mythological and allegorical paintings. They would be depicted as cupids, angels, love goddesses, and soldiers, etc.. Angelica did not like to paint any characters in an actual death scene so she would just allude to it in her paintings. She hated to illustrate blood and gore as the male painters would do. History paintings were much more in demand on the European continent than in England. The portraits that she painted were in the idealized style.

Angelica decided to do history paintings because that kind of painting was considered to be at a much higher skill level. Angelica was also able to command a much higher price for these paintings. Portrait painting was on the decline and Angelica needed to find other ways of making a living to support a lavish lifestyle which she needed to fit into the world of the socialites and aristocrats who were her clients (this was before the time that she herself became very wealthy). 


Angelica, had many suitors both on the European continent and in England. She met Benjamin West (1738-1820), an American painter in Florence, Italy. They both attended the Accademia del Disegno around 1762. Benjamin West was in Italy to prepare himself to become the president of the Royal Academy of Arts in London. They became very good friends. Benjamin West procured some clients for Angelica. He directed Alexander the Duke of Gordon to her studio. Angelica painted a portrait of Benjamin West which was, commissioned by the Uffizi, and exhibited there. The Uffizi is in Florence, Italy. Angelica met the painter, Nathanial Dance (English, 1735-1811) in Italy when she was very young. He was living in an artist's colony in Rome in 1765 where she was also living. He fell in love with Angelica and she might have had the same feelings toward him. They admired each other's paintings and made portraits of each other. Nathanial Dance proposed marriage to Angelica but she turned him down because she saw a violent tendency in his personality. He was devastated when she rejected him. He tried to win her back, but she would not marry him.

There was a story that was circulated in England which cannot be established to be true regarding Angelica and her first husband. The story could be based just on rumors or memoirs from people who knew Angelica. Here is the story: Angelica fell in love with a man who called himself Count Frederick de Horn. He told people that he was a Swedish nobleman. Angelica thought that he really was in love with her. They got married on February 13, 1767 in a secret Catholic ceremony. They married again in a Protestant ceremony on November 20, 1767. They married twice because there was a religious war in England at that time. Protestants ruled over the Catholics and laws were established that forbade Catholic Priests from marrying a Catholic couple. If a priest married a Catholic couple then he could be killed, and the married couple could be sentenced to prison. During the marriage, Angelica began to suspect that he was not a Count or a nobleman. She also learned that he did not really love her as she was duped into believing. She found out that he was just after her money. The story goes on that he wanted to kidnap her and take her to continental Europe with him. She saw him carry a vial that could have contained poison. He scared her because his violent personality surfaced. Angelica brought him to court to have the marriage dissolved. He wanted her to pay him 500 pounds for the dissolution of the marriage. She felt that it was too much to pay and only wanted to pay him 300 pounds. The court proceedings were going badly for him since the paperwork which her attorneys produced proved that he was not a Count or a nobleman. They offered proof that he was a bigamist who had abandoned his German wife. He then decided to lower his demands against Angelica and take the 300 pounds that she offered. He promised not to physically harm or molest her. Angelica could have continued on with the case but she decided to drop it since all she wanted was to have her marriage dissolved as soon as she could. The court could have sentenced him to death for being a bigamist. Only aristocrats and noblemen could avoid a death sentence for committing bigamy. The phony Count left London with the 300 pounds that Angelica gave him.

Since the aristocrats and the rest of the high society in London were also fooled by this man into believing that he was a Count and nobleman, they could not snicker at Angelica for being tricked by him. Angelica had a lot of friends who sympathized with her and helped her through this nightmare of a marriage.

At this point, Angelica's father wanted his daughter to be safe from men who might want to marry her because of her wealth. He wanted to arrange a marriage between his friend, Antonio Zucchi (Italian, 1726-1795) and his daughter. Antonio Zucchi was a decorative painter from Venice, Italy. So he asked Antonio if he would agree to this proposition and he agreed to it. Angelica also was agreeable to the idea of an arranged marriage. So Angelica and Antonio were married in 1781. Antonio Zucchi was much older than Angelica but the difference in age did not deter her from marrying him. During her marriage she did fall in love with him and was extremely distressed at his death in 1795.

Portrait of Antonio Zucchi, by Angelica Kauffman, 1781, Oil, Private Collection


 Many years later, when she left England to move back to the European continent in 1781, specifically Rome. While living in Rome, she developed a very strong friendship with Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (German,1749-1832). She loved his poetry and plays and his intellectual mind. Her favorite poem that Goethe wrote was "Der Wanderer". She also developed a friendship with Johann Christian Bach (German, 1735-1782). In between composing music, he would arrange to have concerts so he could perform his music. Bach was probably very impressed with her singing and musical abilities because he invited her to sing and play the glass harpsichord and the harmonica at one of his concerts.

Portrait of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, by Angelica Kauffman, 1775, Oil, Collection of  Goethe National Museum, Weimar, Germany


Her achievements in life were astounding for someone so young:
1. Angelica was elected to the Accademia Clementina located in Bologna, Italy when she was only 20 years old. At that school she was able to study anatomy by either dissecting cadavers herself or observing an instructor do it. The school would not allow female students to attend classes where male nudes were modeling. She graduated from that school with a better understanding of male anatomy. 
2. Five days later she was elected to the Accademia del Disegno which was located in Florence, Italy. She was admitted there on October 1762 when she was still 20 years old.
3. She became a member of the Roman Accademia di San Luca on May 5, 1765.
4. Later on in her life, she was made a professor at the Venice Accademia on April 8, 1782. She considered this appointment to be her most important achievement.
5. She became a founding member of the Royal Academy of Arts in London in 1768.
6. Her paintings were exhibited at the Uffizi.
7. She did illustrations for Goethe's books of poetry and plays. Goethe commissioned her to do the illustrations for his tragedy "Egmont" which was published in 1788.
8.  She painted the painting "Poor Maria", 1777, which made her a sensation all over the world.  The image was so popular, that it was engraved and also transferred onto china service.

Angelica had her last exhibition at the Royal Academy in 1797. In the Spring of 1802 Angelica fell ill. The doctors treated her for pneumonia. She managed to get over that illness, but she felt weak and this time she was bedridden. She continued to paint portraits during the years of 1803-1805 even though she wasn't feeling well. She started to paint a portrait of Prince Ludwig of Bavaria in 1805 and finished it just before her death in 1807. She died in Rome, Italy on November 5, 1807.


Angelica was loved by a multitude of people due to her charitable acts of giving away most of her fortune to help strangers and also her family in Schwarzenberg. When Angelica passed away people stood on the streets of Rome to see her casket pass by so that they could pay their respects to her and bid her a final farewell. There were 50 priests and monks who walked behind her casket. She was buried next to her husband in S. Andrea delle Fratte, a parish church, which is located on Via di Propaganda Street. In her will she stated that she wanted people to donate to the poor on the day that she died and also for a number of days after her death.

There were many tributes and honorary speeches at her funeral and afterwards. Guiseppi Bonomi (Italian 1739-1808) who was an associate member of the Royal Academy of Arts, read a homage to her in front of the Royal Academicians in London on December 23rd. There was a magnificent ceremony when Angelica's portrait was placed in the Pantheon in 1808. In 1809 her friends had a marble tablet engraved with an epitaph to her installed in a wall in a church in Schwarzenberg. Later on a bust of Angelica, sculpted by Christopher Hewetson (Irish 1737-1798), was bequeathed to this same church. The Danish poet, Friederike Brun (1765-1835), wrote a poem called "On Angelica's Urn" to honor her. Pope Pius VII exempted her estate from all inheritance taxes and death duties because the money that she made was acquired honorably through her hard work.


Goodden, Angelica, author, "Miss Angel: The Art and World of Angelica Kauffman" published by Pimlico in 2005.


Angelica Kauffman's paintings and artwork can be seen at these places:

      1. The Brooklyn Museum of Art has some of her paintings on exhibit at the Museum itself as well as images of her works on their web site. 

       2. The Metropolitan Museum of Art has images of her paintings and other artwork on their web site. The paintings on their web site are: Telemachus and the Nymphs of Calypso as well as The Sorrow of Telemachus, and other works of art. The Met did have an exhibition of her paintings in the past but they had to be taken down from the gallery walls due to long-term construction which is currently going on. This construction will take four years to finish. 

       3. The Victoria and Albert Museum web site also contains many of her paintings and drawings. The web site: has many of her paintings including her self portraits, the portrait of Johann Joachim Winkelman, portrait of David Garrick, and portrait of Johann Wolfgang Goethe, murals and finishes which she painted in a home, and her painting, Penelope at the Loom.

        4.  The Royal Academy of Arts in London, and the National Portrait Gallery in London also have a web site where images of her paintings can be seen.

        5. Other museums which have exhibitions of her work include the Angelika Kauffmann Museum, Schwarzenberg, Austria,

        6.  Bunder Kunstmuseum, Chur, Switzerland,

        7. The State Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg, Russia 

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