Angelica Kauffman: Cornelia Presenting Her Children as Her Treasures

My favorite style of art in all of art history is Classical Art. I love the order and rationality of it all. I love the symmetry, the balance, the scientific accuracy… I just love every aspect of it. That being said, I also really love styles of classical revivals such as the Renaissance… and in the late eighteenth century, Neoclassicism.

The renewed interest and appreciation of classical antiquity led to the rise of Neoclassicism in the eighteenth century. Neoclassicism was largely a result of the Enlightenment, which emphasized classical philosophical ideas and ideals, such as rationality and order. During this time period, Rome and Greece served as models of “enlightened” societies, as their political organization and structure perfectly embodied the ideas of the Enlightenment. Also during this time, Herculaneum and Pompeii were being unearthed and these excavations further stimulated the public’s interest. The art movement was popular among the general public and manifested itself in the form of paintings, architecture, and sculpture.

One of the leading artists of Neoclassicism and one the pioneers of the Neoclassical painting is Angelica Kauffman (1741-1807). Her painting, Cornelia Presenting Her Children as Her Treasures (Mother of the Gracchi) epitomizes Neoclassical virtues and Neoclassic painting.

Angelica Kauffman, Cornelia Presenting Her Children as Her Treasures (Mother of the Gracchi), 1785

Kauffman’s Cornelia Presenting Her Children as Her Treasures (Mother of the Gracchi) is an example of exemplum virtutis, that is, example or model of virtue. In this painting, Cornelia behaves in an exemplary and virtuous manner. When a seated visitor shows off her fine jewelry, Cornelia, the mother of future political leaders (Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus*), presents her children, showing that they are her treasures, instead of rushing to find and exhibit her own expensive adornments.

In the painting, the figures are clothed in classic Roman attire, with the garb draped around them. The figures stand in an almost statuesque manner. The interior, with the two simple columns, is also Roman. There is not a single trace of the frivolousness from the previous Rococo style.

I think that this painting is so classy and elegant and it has such a sweet message. The composition of the painting is rather simple, four figures and two columns. Yet, there is so much detail. The ruffles and the folds in the clothes are draped around the figures so naturally and the fluffiness and curls in the children’s hair seems almost tangible. I also really like the color scheme of pinks, yellows, oranges, and a tan grey, so soft, gentle, light, and sweet. I think that all of this works so well to convey the ultimate message of the work of art.

*The two boys depicted in Cornelia Presenting Her Children as Her Treasures (Mother of the Gracchi) are Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus, sons of Cornelia. Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus later, in the second century BCE, tried to reform the Roman Republic.

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