Virgil and the Muse of Poetry

Attributed to Angelica Kauffman, Swiss, 1741 - 1807. Attributed to Antonio Zucchi, Italian, 1726 - 1795.

c. 1800

Pen and brown ink (possibly iron gall) with brush and brown and gray washes, heightened with white opaque watercolor, over traces of black chalk, on discolored beige laid paper, mounted down

Sheet: 11 5/16 x 9 inches (28.8 x 22.8 cm)

Curatorial Department:
Prints, Drawings, and Photographs

Object Location:

Currently not on view

Accession Number:

Credit Line:
The Muriel and Philip Berman Gift, acquired from the John S. Phillips bequest of 1876 to the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, with funds contributed by Muriel and Philip Berman and the Edgar Viguers Seeler Fund (by exchange), 1984

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One of the rare internationally known women artists of her time, Swiss-born Kauffmann enjoyed a successful career in London, Rome, Florence, and Naples, not only as a portraitist but also in the intellectually more demanding field of historical and mythological painting. This drawing shows the Roman national poet Virgil-whose pastoral poems the Bucolics refer to his own rustic roots-at his farm with his beehives in the background.

Additional information:
  • PublicationItalian Master Drawings at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

    There has been some difference of opinion as to the attribution of the present drawing. Bettina Baumgärtel, author of the major monograph on Kauffmann (1990), considered it to be by her husband, Antonio Zucchi, whose drawing style was close to her own (notation on mat, 17 February 2000). Duncan Bull also suggested “close to Zucchi” (notation on mat, n.d.). Kauffmann’s exploitation of the medium of pen and ink is also near that of such contemporaries as George Romney, Joseph Anton Koch, and John Flaxman. The drawing was engraved by Adolf von Heydeck, who owned it at the time, as by Kauffmann, and evidence points to Kauffmann’s input into the drawing, if not as its author then at least as the originator of its learned iconography. Her early training and her later curiosity provided her with a comprehensive knowledge of ancient images and literature, and she was on close terms with the intellectuals, artists, and writers of the day, including Winckelmann and Goethe. An approximate date for the drawing to Kauffmann’s final period in Rome is suggested here on the basis of its style and its iconography, replete with the new imagery inspired by recent excavations at Pompeii and Herculaneum and with references to the artist’s own erudition. The Roman poet Virgil was seen as the personification of an intellectual seeking the simplicity and honor of rural life, and Kauffmann has shown him seated informally at his farm with his beehives in the background. She has drawn these with careful attention to the conical buildings favored by the ancient Etruscans in their domestic architecture; Virgil’s first and last names, Publius and Maro, were thought to have been of Etruscan derivation. In the drawing Virgil is receiving inspiration from Erato, the muse of lyric poetry, who holds a lyre in one hand while with the other she gestures toward putti with attributes of farming and warfare, thus suggesting Virgil’s mastery of all three aspects of poetry: the lyric, the didactic, and the epic. There is an iconographical precedent in a Carthaginian mosaic that shows Virgil, the Roman national poet, listening attentively to the muses of history (Clio) and tragedy (Melpomene). The drawing may reflect Kauffmann’s fantasy interpretation of the genesis of Virgil’s Bucolics, the ten pastoral poems that, of all his literary productions, most specifically refer to his rustic roots. Mimi Cazort, from Italian Master Drawings at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (2004), cat. 63.