Azara and Mengs
The relationship between the two men yielded its first artistic results in 1765 when Azara requested the collaboration of Mengs in the design of a medal to commemorate the marriage of the Prince and Princess of Asturias.
José Nicolás de Azara
José Nicolás de Azara (Barbuñales, 1730 – Paris, 1804) became widely known in Spain from the time of his first appointment as a civil servant in the Government Office in 1760. He subsequently achieved international renown through his diplomatic post in Rome, where he remained for more than thirty years, followed by Paris from 1798 to 1803 as Spanish ambassador at a delicate period in the last decade of the 18th century and early years of the following century. Among Azara’s numerous friendships with leading cultural and political figures were those with Winckelmann, the theoretician of classical art, the famous typographer Bodoni, Pope Pius VI and politicians such as Godoy in Spain and Napoleon and Talleyrand in France.
Anton Raphael Mengs
Anton Raphael Mengs (Aussig, 1728 – Rome, 1779) initially trained with his father Ismael Mengs in Dresden then went to Italy to study the works of the Italian masters including Raphael, Michelangelo, Carlo Maratti, Correggio, the Carracci, Guido Reni and Titian. In 1751 he was appointed painter to the privy chamber by the Elector of Saxony, Frederick August II. During his time in Rome from 1752 to 1761, where he met the German archaeologist Johann Joachim Winckelmann, Mengs evolved the theories that formed the basis of his writings on ideal beauty and the recovery of the perfection of art through the study of the great models of the ideale classico. After painting the fresco of the Parnassus in the Villa Albani, which can be considered the embodiment of Neo-classical art, Mengs was summoned to Madrid by Charles III, the Elector of Saxony’s son-in-law, to supervise the decoration of the Royal Palace.
Appointed painter to the privy chamber in 1766, he introduced the new artistic trends into Spain and supported Spanish painters such as Maella, the Bayeu brothers and Goya. Due to poor health, Mengs returned to Rome in 1769. As a commission from Charles III, in 1770 in Florence he painted the portraits of the families of the Grand Dukes of Tuscany (Museo Nacional del Prado), at which point he made plaster casts of the most important classical and Renaissance sculptures in their collection, which he used for teaching purposes. In Rome the artist was appointed director of the Academy of Saint Luke and received important commissions for paintings for the Museo Clementino and the basilica of Saint Peter’s. Having returned to Madrid in 1774 he went to Rome again in 1776, where he died of tuberculosis in 1779. Mengs’s output encompasses history paintings, religious works, frescoes on religious, mythological and allegorical subjects, and an important group of portraits.