Angelica Kauffman's Self-Portrait and Cornelia, Mother of the Gracchi

Angelica Kauffman (1741 - 1807): Rococo (1730s - 1780s)

Angelica Kauffman, a prominent artist of the Rococo era, left an indelible mark on the world of art with her exquisite paintings that captured the essence of the 18th century. Her life, talent, and dedication to her craft tell a fascinating story of a woman who defied societal norms and achieved greatness in the male-dominated art world.

Birthplace and Family Background

Angelica Kauffman was born on October 30, 1741, in Chur, Switzerland. She was the daughter of Johann Joseph Kauffman, a painter, and Cleophea Lutz, a singer and writer. Growing up in an artistic and intellectually stimulating environment, Angelica was exposed to creativity from an early age. Her father recognized her prodigious talent and provided her with the guidance and support she needed to develop her skills.

Education and Training

Kauffman's family moved to Italy when she was quite young, allowing her to receive formal artistic training in cities like Milan and Rome. Her exposure to the rich cultural heritage of Italy greatly influenced her artistic sensibilities and laid the foundation for her distinctive style.

Art Style: Rococo Elegance

Angelica Kauffman's art style is emblematic of the Rococo period, which spanned from the 1730s to the 1780s. Rococo art is characterized by its ornate and playful nature, often featuring delicate colors, elaborate details, and a sense of lightness. Kauffman's paintings beautifully encapsulate these qualities, showcasing her mastery in depicting subjects with elegance and refinement.

20 Notable Artworks

1. "Self-Portrait" (c. 1770)

In this self-portrait, Kauffman portrays herself with a confident gaze, capturing her artistic spirit and determination.

2. "Cornelia, Mother of the Gracchi" (1785)

Kauffman's portrayal of Cornelia, a symbol of maternal virtue, showcases her ability to infuse emotion and narrative into her subjects. In this first version, Cornelia presents her children as her treasures.

3. "The Sempstress" (1764)

This painting depicts a young woman engrossed in her sewing, embodying the Rococo theme of everyday life and feminine grace.

4. "Virgil Reading to Augustus and Octavia" (c. 1787)

Kauffman's historical accuracy and attention to detail shine in this depiction of the poet Virgil reading to the Roman Emperor Augustus and his sister Octavia.

5. "The Penitent Magdalene" (c. 1785)

An evocative portrayal of Mary Magdalene in penitence, this painting demonstrates Kauffman's ability to convey complex emotions through her art.

6. "Cupid and Psyche" (c. 1780)

Inspired by classical mythology, this work captures the timeless love story of Cupid and Psyche with a delicate touch.

7. "Hesiod and the Muse" (1771)

Kauffman's skill in creating allegorical scenes is evident in this piece, where the poet Hesiod is inspired by the Muse Calliope.

8. "Portrait of Johann Joachim Winckelmann" (c. 1764)

In this portrait, Kauffman immortalizes the art historian Winckelmann, emphasizing his intellectual contributions.

9. "The Artist in the Character of Design Listening to the Inspiration of Poetry" (c. 1782)

A self-referential work, this painting showcases Kauffman's reverence for the creative process.

10. "Telemachus and Mentor in the Isle of Calypso" (1783)

Kauffman's mastery of narrative painting is evident in this scene from Homer's "Odyssey," capturing Telemachus and Mentor's plight.

11. "Philoctetes on the Island of Lemnos" (1785)

This painting depicts the isolated Philoctetes, exiled on an island, showcasing Kauffman's ability to convey human emotions in solitude.

12. "Cornelia, Mother of the Gracchi" (1788)

Continuing the theme of maternal love, this work highlights Kauffman's sensitivity to familial bonds. In this second version, Cornelia points to her children as her treasures.

13. "The Music Party" (1764)

A quintessential Rococo scene, this painting captures a group of musicians and dancers in a lush garden setting.

14. "Clio, the Muse of History" (1782)

Kauffman's intellectual depth is evident in her portrayal of Clio, the Muse of History, with attributes like a globe and a book.

15. "Ariadne Abandoned by Theseus" (1774)

The emotional turmoil of Ariadne's abandonment is beautifully depicted in this painting.

16. "Lady Elizabeth Foster as a Shepherdess" (c. 1785)

A portrait of Lady Elizabeth Foster, this work showcases Kauffman's ability to capture the personality and style of her subjects.

17. "Mademoiselle Isabelle de Charrière" (c. 1779)

Kauffman's portraiture skills shine in this depiction of Mademoiselle Isabelle de Charrière, a Dutch writer and intellectual.

18. "The Muse of Heroic Poetry" (1782)

Kauffman's dedication to artistic representation of the Muses is evident in this depiction of the Muse of Heroic Poetry.

19. "Portrait of Charles Burney" (c. 1776)

In this portrait, Kauffman immortalizes the music historian Charles Burney, capturing his erudition and passion.

20. "Allegory of Painting" (1782)

In this allegorical work, Kauffman pays tribute to the art of painting itself, depicting a young woman holding a canvas and palette.


Angelica Kauffman's contribution to the world of art during the Rococo period remains invaluable. Through her exceptional talent and dedication, she created a body of work that continues to inspire and captivate audiences to this day. Her ability to infuse emotion, narrative, and elegance into her paintings solidifies her place as a remarkable artist of her time. From portraits to historical scenes, Kauffman's legacy lives on as a testament to her creative spirit and artistic prowess.


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