During his lifetime Anton Raphael Mengs (1728-79) was considered one of the most important painters in Europe, but his reputation declined with the rise of Romanticism and has only begun to recover in recent years. Born in Aussig, and brought up in Dresden, he became Principal Painter to the royal courts of Saxony and Madrid, but his main base was ...
During his lifetime Anton Raphael Mengs (1728-79) was considered one of the most important painters in Europe, but his reputation declined with the rise of Romanticism and has only begun to recover in recent years. Born in Aussig, and brought up in Dresden, he became Principal Painter to the royal courts of Saxony and Madrid, but his main base was to be Rome. He never visited Great Britain, refusing, out of loyalty to his King, the invitations he received to come and work here. Through the diplomat Sir Charles Hanbury Williams in Dresden, Mengs was introduced to key members of the British circle in Florence, such as the ambassador Sir Horace Mann, who provided a crucial link between British travellers and the artistic circles of Rome. This was, of course, the heyday of the British Grand Tour, and in many ways, it was unnecessary for Mengs to go to Britain - Britain, in the wealthy form of its youthful aristocracy, came to him. As the Seven Years' War cut off Mengs's official source of income from the Elector of Saxony, he was probably grateful to be able to turn to the lucrative field of Grand Tour portraiture. Mengs quickly became one of the central figures of the Neoclassical 'set' that gathered round the great German antiquarian Winckelmann. His studio was open to all, and this period saw figures like Richard Wilson (a friend, whose portrait Mengs painted), Robert Adam, Allan Ramsay, Robert Wood, James 'Athenian' Stuart, Piranesi, and of course, Mengs's great rival in the field of Grand Tour portraits, Pompeo Batoni, all at work and sharing ideas and tastes. Thomas Jenkins, artist and the most famous dealer of the time, was another friend. In this intellectual climate, Mengs producedworks for like-minded British patrons which were to have a strong influence on art in this country, like the enormous copy after Raphael's School of Athens for Northumberland House (now in the Victoria and Albert Museum) and Augustus and Cleopatra, (finished in 1761) for Henry H
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