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Anton Raphael Mengs

Anton Raphael Mengs German-bohemian painter

German-bohemian painter
The basics
Quick Facts
Intro German-bohemian painter
A.K.A. Anton Raphaël Mengs, Anton Rafael Mengs, Antonio Raffaele Mengz, Raph...
Was Historian Painter Art historian
From Germany
Type Academia Arts Social science
Gender male
Birth 22 March 1728, Ústí nad Labem, Ústí nad Labem District, Ústí nad Labem Region, Czech Republic
Death 29 June 1779, Rome, Province of Rome, Lazio, Italy (aged 51 years)
Star sign AriesAries
Children: Anna Maria Mengs
The details

Anton Raphael Mengs (March 22, 1728 – June 29, 1779) was a German (Saxonian) painter, active in Dresden, Rome and Madrid, who while painting in the Rococo period of the mid-17th century became one of the precursors to Neoclassical painting that replaced Rococo as the dominant painting syle.


Self-portrait, 1744

Mengs was born in 1728 at Ústí nad Labem (German: Aussig) in Kingdom of Bohemia, the son of Ismael Mengs [da], a Danish painter who eventually established himself at Dresden, at the court of Saxonian-Polish electors and kings. His elder sister, Therese Maron was also a painter, as was their younger sister Julia.

Birth in Bohemia was mere coincidence, as with his sister Therese, because father maintained an extramarital relationship with housekeeper Charlotte Bormann and in an effort to conceal the birth of an illegitimate child, he decided to take the mistress under the pretext of "vacations" to the nearest bigger town abroad, namely to Ústí nad Labem (90 km upstream of the Elbe River), where she gave birth to another child. After a few weeks, Ismael Mengs took his son and her mother back to Dresden, where they lived for the next 13 years.

In 1741 Mengs's father moved his family from Dresden to Rome.

In 1749 he was appointed first painter to Frederick Augustus, elector of Saxony, but this did not prevent him from continuing to spend much of his time in Rome. There he married Margarita Guazzi, who had sat for him as a model in 1748. He converted to Catholicism, and in 1754 he became director of the Vatican school of painting. His fresco painting of Parnassus at Villa Albani gained him a reputation as a master painter.

In 1749 Mengs accepted a commission from the Duke of Northumberland to make a copy, in oil on canvas, of Raphael's fresco The School of Athens for his London home. Executed in 1752–5, Mengs' painting is full-sized, but adapts the composition to a rectangular format, with some additional figures. It is now in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum. Mengs died in Rome in June 1779 and was buried in the Roman Church of Santi Michele e Magno.


Self-portrait, 1774

On two occasions he accepted invitations from Charles III of Spain to go to Madrid. There he produced some of his best work, most notably the ceiling of the banqueting hall of the Royal Palace of Madrid, the subject of which was the Triumph of Trajan and the Temple of Glory. After the completion of this work in 1777, Mengs returned to Rome, where he died two years later, in poor circumstances, leaving twenty children, seven of whom were pensioned by the king of Spain. His portraits and self-portraits recall an attention to detail and insight often lost in his grander paintings.

His closeness to Johann Joachim Winckelmann has enhanced his historical importance. Mengs came to share Winckelmann's enthusiasm for classical antiquity, and worked to establish the dominance of Neoclassical painting over the then popular Rococo style. At the same time, however, the influence of the Roman Baroque remained strong in his work, particularly in his religious paintings. He would have fancied himself the first neoclassicist, while in fact he may be the last flicker of Baroque art. Rudolf Wittkower wrote: "In the last analysis, he is as much an end as a beginning". Goethe regretted that "so much learning should have been allied to a total want of initiative and poverty of invention, and embodied with a strained and artificial mannerism."

Anton Raphael Mengs' grave in Rome

Mengs had a well-known rivalry with the contemporary Italian painter Pompeo Batoni. He was also a friend of Giacomo Casanova. Casanova provides accounts of his personality and contemporary reputation through anecdotes in his Histoire de Ma Vie. Among his pupils in Italy were Anton von Maron, Antonio Maron (Vienna, 1731- Naples 1761). His pupils in Spain included Agustín Esteve.

Besides numerous paintings in Madrid, the Ascension and St Joseph at Dresden, Perseus and Andromeda at Saint Petersburg, and the ceiling of the Villa Albani are among his chief works. A Noli me tangere was commissioned as an altar-piece by All Souls College, Oxford, and is now held in the National Gallery, London. Another altar-piece was installed in Magdalen College, Oxford.

Theoretical writings

In his writings, in Spanish, Italian, and German, Mengs expressed an eclectic theory of art, seeing perfection as attainable by a well-schemed combination of diverse excellences: Greek design, with the expression of Raphael, the chiaroscuro of Correggio, and the colour of Titian.

Selected works

  • Ascension (Dresden, Court Church), 1751/1766
  • St Joseph (Dresden, Court Church), 1751/1766
  • The Glory of Saint Eusebius (ceiling fresco, Sant'Eusebio, Rome), 1757 (modello, oil on canvas, National Gallery of Canada Ottawa)
  • Portrait of Ferdinand I (National Museum of Capodimonte, Naples, Italy), 1759
  • Charles III (Museo del Prado, Madrid), 1761
  • Infante Don Louis de Borbon (Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, Ohio)
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