Mother of the Gracchi, Angelica Kauffmann, 1785, oil on canvas, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond
Among the few women artists to have survived in the male dominated world of the past centuries, Angelica Kauffmann was admired in her times and managed to have a career as a painter at a time when women were expected to be nothing more than wives and mothers. She spent a great part of her life in England as the protégée of Sir Joshua Reynolds, although she was originally from Switzerland.
The theme of this painting comes from the Classical period, as was common among the Neoclassicists who reacted to the ‘frivolous’ rococo style. It presents the story of Cornelia the mother of the Gracchi who presents her sons as her jewels when another woman demonstrates to her precious adornments. The story is meant to be didactic and the figures and background are treated are following the Classical tradition.