The Most Accomplished Woman in Europe: Angelica Kauffmann


In response to one of my pleas for recommendations of female artists, reader Jessy suggested Angelica Kauffmann (1741-1807), one of the most successful female artists of the 18th century. Since today would be Kauffmann's 267th birthday, we'll take a look at her life alongside her 1790 painting, "Venus Induces Helen to Fall in Love with Paris."

1. Truly a child prodigy, Angelica Kauffmann began demonstrating artistic skill by age 6 while studying under her father. Although her father has been described as being "of mediocre talent," his instruction and connections were good enough that Kauffmann was "summoned" to paint a portrait of the bishop of Como, Monsignor Nevroni, before she was even 12 years old.

2. Kauffmann's first marriage was to a Swedish "rogue," also described as "an adventurer who passed for a Swedish count," Count Frederick de Horn. One source says of their marriage, "Her vanity made her the victim of a cruel deception," while another alleges she was "seduced into a clandestine marriage." After the man was revealed to be an impostor, Kauffmann separated from him, extracting herself from the marriage with the help of her good friend and fellow painter Sir Joshua Reynolds.

3. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was another of Kauffmann's close friends; he once described her as "the most accomplished woman in Europe." The painter Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun, in exile after the French Revolution, was also counted among Kauffmann's friends and often visited Kauffmann's studio in Rome. Kauffmann's patrons included Catherine the Great of Russia, Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria, George III in England, Queen Caroline of Naples, and Grand-Duke Paul and Prince Nikolay Yusupov of Russia.

4. At the "precocious" age of 23, Kauffmann was accepted into Rome's Accademia di S Luca. Just four years later, she became one of only two female founding members of the London's Royal Academy of Art. (The other was Mary Moser.) Kauffmann had also been one of the signatories on the petition to the king of England requesting the establishment of the academy.

5. After her estranged first husband's death in 1781, Kauffmann entered a "marriage of companionship" with Antonio Zucchi. Although Zucchi was also a painter, he let Kauffmann take the spotlight while he ran the household and kept all the accounts until his death in 1795.

6. When Kauffmann died in Rome in 1807, the prominent Neoclassical sculptor Antonia Canova served as the director of her funeral, which was based on Raphael's funeral. The entire Accademia di S Luca, along with fans and friends, followed her body in a procession to her tomb in San Andrea della Fratte. Two of her best paintings accompanied the procession to her burial, just as at Raphael's.

A larger version of Kauffmann's "Venus Induces Helen to Fall in Love with Paris" is available here. Fans should check out her gallery on Art in the Picture; Frances A. Gerard's Kauffmann biography; the portraits of her at the National Portrait Gallery; and this video discussion of her portrait of Henrietta Laura Pulteney. "Feel Art Again" appears every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. You can e-mail us at with artist suggestions or details of current exhibitions.