Angelica Kauffmann, Cornelia Presenting Her Children, the Gracchi, as Her Treasures (1785). Oil on canvas, 3'4 inches x 4'2 inches. Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond.
Known as one of the first female Academicians, Angelica Kauffman is one of only a few female artists of the Royal Academy to attain fame on a similar level to her male counterparts. Born in Switzerland, her father recognized her creative talents early on and she was considered a prodigy in both painting and music by age 11. She ultimately chose painting as her career path but was considered an extremely gifted musician. Her training began when she was quite young, and she traveled all over Europe, including a prolonged stint in Italy, to continue her studies and was widely considered a great talent with nobles commissioning portraits before she had turned 20. Her works began in the style of the French Rococo but quickly gained the classicizing elements of the Grand Manner Portraiture and History paintings that were popular at the time
Kauffman moved to London in 1766, and soon after was introduced to Sir Joshua Reynolds. The two were firm friends for their entire lives and her name is alongside his on the formal petition submitted to the King to create the Royal Academy in London in 1769. Though one of the founding members, she and Mary Moser were the only female members of the Academy, and women were soon excluded entirely. She was one of the most sought out artists at the Academy and exhibited annually for many years. Her strengths lay in her portrait painting and her History paintings, such as Cornelia (above). Her later years were spent on the continent and she married a Venetian painter by the name of Antonio Zucchi.
The work, Cornelia Presenting Her Children, the Gracchi, as Her Treasures, is a large scale painting depicting an exemplum virtutis from Roman history. Cornelia Africana, the daughter of the general Scipio Africanus, was a Roman matron who exemplified the virtues praised in that society: modesty, chastity, and honor. Her family was of consular rank and she was considered one of the preeminent matrons. However, her importance stems mostly from her two sons and their enduring political legacy. Her sons, Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus, who are often referred to as the Gracchi, were politicians in the 2nd century BC . They are remembered for attempting to pass land reform and other progressive measures to ease the hardship of the lower classes, effectively attempting to reform the Roman Republic. Both were assassinated, during their tenures as tribunes, by their peers of the patrician class for their actions.
In this work Cornelia is shown conversing with another matron. The other woman has come to Cornelia's home on a social call and is showing off her new jewels and fancy adornments. When the visitor asks to see Cornelia's gems, Cornelia calls for her two sons, the Gracchi, to come forward, presenting them as her greatest treasures. Her loyalty to her sons and their political careers is well-documented by Roman histories such as Plutarch. Her enduring loyalty and great humility were both often used in art as devices to show the traits most prized in women, and have often come under discussion in debates on gender roles. Kauffman's beautiful and touching rendering of the work is suffused with maternal feeling and sentiment. Her works, often depicting scenes of motherhood, are beautiful in the clarity and pose with which she portrayed people and the emotions driving them.
Posted by Lydia at 9:00 PM