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Mengs, Anton Raphael

Aussig (Czech Republic), 1728 - Rome (Italy), 1779

This German painter and treatise-writer was the most outstanding proponent of early neoclassicism. He began art studies in Dresden under the severe supervision of his father, Ismael Mengs, a painter at the court of Saxony. Between 1741 and 1744, he lived with his father and brothers in Rome, where he was able to study classical Antiquity and the works of Michelangelo and Raphael at the Vatican. During that first stay in Rome he attended Marco Benefial’s school to learn to paint nudes. After returning to Dresden he made several portraits in pastel that reflect the influence of Rosalba Carriera and Louis de Silvestre, and in October 1745 he was appointed court painter to the Elector of Saxony. He returned to Rome in June of the following year, and there, influenced by Raphael’s works, he made his first oil paintings. In July 1749 he renounced his Lutheran faith and became a Catholic, and one month later, he married Margarita Guazzi, a young Roman who had served as his model for a painting of the Virgin Mary. That same year, coinciding with the Christmas festivities, he returned to Dresden, where he remained. On March 23, 1751 he was appointed first painter to the Saxon court, but just six months later, he abandoned Dresden definitively, moving with his family to Rome on a voyage that took him through Venice and Florence. On August 20, 1752 he entered the Academy of Saint Luke and in 1755 he met and befriended neoclassical theorist Johann Joachim Winckelmann. As an outstanding advocate of “ideal beauty,” he drew on classical Antiquity and the works of Raphael for his concepts of drawing and expression; on Antonio Allegri, Correggio, for grace and chiaroscuro, and on Titian for his sense of color. Mengs’s works also show the influence of Guido Reni, Domenichino, Nicolas Poussin and Carlo Maratti, among others. He set out his esthetic ideas in Gedanken über die Schönheit und über den Geschmak in der Malerey (Zurich, 1762) and they also appear in posthumous editions of his Works edited by his friend José Nicolás de Azara and by Carlo Fea. These were translated into French, German and English. His assessment of Spain’s royal Collections appears in his Letter to Antonio Ponz, which was published in Volume VI of Viaje de España (Madrid, 1776). This, too, was translated into various languages. At the behest of the Saxon court, he traveled to Naples in 1759, and there he met Charles III before the latter left for Spain. In 1760 he painted a portrait of the new king of Naples—Charles III’s son, Ferdinand IV (Prado). A later portrait of Ferdinand’s fiancée, Archduchess Maria Josepha of Austria, was followed by one of her sister, Maria Caroline of Austria, who eventually became Ferdinand’s wife, and thus queen of Naples (both portraits are now in the Museo del Prado). Between 1761 and his death in 1779, Mengs was employed by Charles III and was in Spain between September 1761 and November 1769, and again between July 1774 and January 1777. Despite serious disagreements with the Royal Academy of San Fernando, he was appointed the king’s chamber painter on October 22, 1766 and had a decisive influence on Spanish court art, as can be seen in the works of Francisco Bayeu, Mariano Salvador Maella and Francisco de Goya. During those years, he painted numerous allegorical scenes in the domes of the royal palaces in Madrid and Aranjuez, as well as devotional paintings and a variety of portraits of the royal family and of some individuals. Among his religious works, his contemporaries particularly admired his Lamentation (Patrimonio Nacional), which, in Azara’s opinion, should have been called “Of Philosophy”. In a certain sense, that large panel emulates Raphael’s Christ Falling on the Way to Calvary, also known as Il Spasimo di Sicilia (Museo del Prado). Following a commission to paint a full-length portrait of Charles III (1765-1766, Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen), he made various likenesses of the Spanish royal family, aided in part by his disciples. These included portraits of the Prince and Princess of Asturias, Don Carlos of Bourbon and his wife, Maria Luisa of Parma, Charles III and his deceased wife, María Amalia of Saxony. In 1767, he added images of the infantes Don Gabriel, Don Antonio Pascual and Don Javier (all at the Museo del Prado). Between his two stays in Spain, he was at court in Tuscany, where he portrayed the Grand Duke and Duchess, Leopold of Lorrain and Marie Louise of Bourbon, as well as their children, the Archdukes and Archduchesses Marie Therese, Francis, Fernando and Marianne of Austria (all from 1770 and at the Museo del Prado). While in Italy, he finished the portrait of Isabel Parreño that he had begun in Spain (Museum of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando, Madrid), and in Naples he depicted the members of that royal family. In Florence, he painted his friend, José Nicolás de Azara (private collection, Madrid), along with a self-portrait at the Galleria degli Uffizi, which presents him as a draftsman. During his second stay in Spain he painted the panel of Saint Paschal Baylon, but he soon returned to Rome, where he painted his last works. In 1778, he completed Perseus and Andromeda—which draws on various models from classical Antiquity—for Watkin Williams-Wynn (Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg), but he was unable to complete his Annunciation for the new chapel at the palace in Aranjuez (Royal Palace, Madrid) (Jordán de Urríes y de la Colina, J. in: Enciclopedia M.N.P, 2006, Vol. V, pp. 1530-1532).

His self portrait at the Museo del Prado is catalogued as P02197.

Artworks (49)

San Pedro predicando
Oil on canvas, XVIII century
Mengs, Anton Rafael
María Carolina de Habsburgo-Lorena, reina de Nápoles
Oil on canvas, XVIII century
Mengs, Anton Rafael (Copy)
María Josefa de Lorena, archiduquesa de Austria
Oil on canvas, XVIII century
Mengs, Anton Rafael (Copy after)
Carlos III
Oil on canvas, XVIII century
Mengs, Anton Rafael (Copy)
The Immaculate Conception
Oil on canvas, XVIII century
Mengs, Anton Rafael (Attributed to)
The Youthful Saint John the Baptist in the Desert
Oil on panel, 1753 - 1754
Mengs, Anton Rafael
Maria Amalia of Saxony
Oil on unlined canvas, Ca. 1761
Mengs, Anton Rafael
Father Francesco Pepe
Oil on canvas, 1758 - 1759
Mengs, Anton Rafael
Head of an Apostle
Oil on canvas, Ca. 1764
Mengs, Anton Rafael


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