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Angelika Kauffmann - Portrait of Johann Joachim Winckelmann

by Sarah Baur

During her Grand Tour of Italy, the painter Angelika Kauffmann received numerous commissions for portraits of other travellers, who bought them as a kind of souvenir. Shortly after her arrival in Rome, she was commissioned by Johann Caspar Füssli, Johann Heinrich Füssli's father, to paint a portrait of the antiquities researcher and librarian Johann Joachim Winckelmann.

Winckelmann was in the service of Cardinal Giovanni Francesco Albani and became the superintendent of antiquities in Rome in 1764. He introduced the theory of the Hellenic ideal of purity, which in his opinion was based on "noble simplicity and quiet grandeur".[1] In his "Thoughts on the Imitation of Greek Works in Painting and Sculpture", he describes the "great and composed soul" that is powerful in its emotions and knows how to reveal them neither in posture nor facial expression. It is more important to be able to recognise the "sincerity of the heart" in what is portrayed. Also in the spirit of this ideal, he emphasised the use of classically noble and pure materials such as white marble and bronze. This also applied to the colourfulness, which was to recede in favour of line and contour. This aesthetic was crucial to Classicism and made the separation from the Baroque.[2]

Angelika Kauffmann in particular was able to implement the sensitivity so strongly emphasised by Winckelmann, this "striving for harmony in art", in her paintings.[3] Winckelmann himself also praised her artistic skills: "My painting was made by a rare person, a German painter, for a stranger. She is very good at portraits in oil, and mine costs 30 zecchini; it is a half seated figure. She has etched the same in quarto, and another is working it in black art to make me a present with the copper plate."[4]

In the portrait, which appeared at the same time as his magnum opus Die Geschichte der Kunst des Altertums, the forty-seven-year-old Winckelmann is seen sitting at a writing desk with a high forehead and thinning hair. He wears a greenish robe with an open shirt collar and a yellowish scarf draped loosely around his neck. He seems to pause for a moment while writing and directs his gaze past the viewer into the distance. He holds a quill with his right hand and leans on an open book. Below him is a relief depicting the Three Graces. This relief is a reference to his work Von der Grazie in Werken der Kunst, which appeared in 1759.

The gentle colouring and the delicate facial features of the thoughtful scholar are entirely in keeping with the ideal of human beauty propagated by Winckelmann. Two years later, he again expressed his admiration for Angelika in a letter: "Fueßli, [...] had me painted in oil by the skilful hand of a beautiful German girl in Rome."[5] Rudolf Füssli also admired the work, so that he mentioned Angelika in his Allgemeines Künstlerlexikon as early as 1767. The portrait was so positively received in Zurich, where it is still to be found today, that, as already described in Winckelmann's letter above, it was also immediately reproduced by copperplate engraving and distributed throughout Europe. "In doing so, she created a monument for herself and for him; this portrait still shapes our image of Winckelmann today, and after his death it has been copied again and again," says Dr Kathrin Schade, curator at the Winckelmann Museum.[6] This painting suddenly opened up the international art market for her, and it is now considered Kauffmann's "most important work in terms of cultural history."[7]

[1] Winckelman, Johann Joachim: Thoughts on the Imitation of Greek Works in Painting and Sculpture, text of the 2nd edition of 1756, p. 17.

[2] Katz, Gabriele: Angelika Kauffmann. Artist and Businesswoman, Stuttgart, 2012, p. 31.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Daßdorf, Karl Wilhelm: Winckelmann's Letters to his Friends, 1st part, Dresden, 1777, p. 121.

[5] Nicolai, Friedrich: Johann Winckelmanns Briefe an einer seiner vertrauten Freunde in den Jahren 1756 bis 1768, 1. Theil, Berlin und Stettin, 1781, S. 63

[6] In: Nora Knappe: The Woman Winckelmann Painted. Stendal 2016 , report on the special exhibition "Grace and Enlightenment - A Collection of Prints after Works by Angelika Kauffmann".

[7] Maierhofer, Waltraud: Angelika Kauffmann, Leipzig, 1997, p. 31, from: Oscar Sandner: Homage to Angelica Kauffmann p. 15

Angelika Kauffmann - Portrait of Johann Joachim Winckelmann

1764, oil on canvas, 97 x 71 cm, Kunsthaus Zurich

Angelika Kauffmann - Portrait of Johann Joachim Winckelmann

1780, copper engraving, 21.6 x 15.9 cm, National Gallery of Art, London


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