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June 20, 2019

Mid-Morning Open Thread [Kris]

Kauffman Cornelia.jpg


Cornelia, Mother Of The Gracci, Pointing To Her Children As Her Treasures
Angelica Kauffman

Angelica Kauffman painted at a time when women were heavily restricted from the royal academies, but she showed so much undeniable talent that she was a member of five across Europe. This work is an excellent example of Neoclassicism, a style about heroism, virtue and idealism. It is heavily theatrical and melodramatic. It was the first of two (or second of three depending on who you ask) major artistic expressions of the late Enlightenment period.

For me, the key elements in this work are composition and color. Cornelia dominates the painting, standing just off-center to the right, dressed in white, gold and purple. These three colors have high significance and give her an almost angelic, queenly, noble quality. Farther right, Cornelia holds her young daughter’s hand as she talks with another woman. The girl’s attention is on the shiny objects in the woman’s box. The other woman sits and is earnestly showing off her jewelry. She is also dressed in white and gold but these colors are covered with a vivid red, the color of carnality. Immediately, just by the colors alone, we are given a hint that there is something different about Cornelia.

These three figures are all connected and form one large mass of females. Two boys are to the left. The older boy’s colors mimic his mother’s, linking them and possibly saying that he is the nobler of the two. The younger boy is in red, maybe representing his immaturity. Red on both ends of the composition also frames and unifies the piece further. The younger boy is hunched over, forcing him to look up to his older brother too. This may foreshadow their adulthood when the younger will follow the older into politics and take over after the older is murdered.

A space separates the male and females but Cornelia unifies the groups using her eyes that look to the right and by her gesture towards the boys that draws the viewer’s eye to the left. The eyes swing back and forth across the canvas taking it all in. Cornelia is the tallest form in the painting and as we move to the edges the figures squat, creating a shallow triangle. This may be an homage to Greek pedimental sculpture, but it also makes everyone, including the viewer, look up to Cornelia, literally and figuratively. Kauffman’s attempts to move the eye around the piece while keeping the focus on Cornelia is important because those reds are so bright and dominant. The separation of the sexes may represent the gender expectations in Rome and Kauffman’s time. The boys are holding a book and a scroll signaling their focus on education and the intellect while their sister focuses on emotional and earthly things.

Kauffman is a woman in a profession dominated by men, painting for a female audience. Here, Cornelia is presented as the Ideal Mother, a model for women everywhere. While the other woman and the girl are preoccupied by shiny baubles and shallow things, her priorities are raising good, well-educated, grounded men. The Gracci brothers are known to Roman history as reformers and martyrs, and Kauffman answers the question of where such men come from… they come from good mothers.

[Kris has graciously agreed (after much begging from me), to write an occasional art thread. Look for her name on the headline so you won't be surprised to find actual informed art criticism on these august pages]


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posted by CBD at 09:30 AM

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