Portrait of a Woman, 1780s

This is a near life-size painting of a woman seated on rocks. It was painted by the Swiss-Austrian artist Angelica Kauffman (1741-1807), who spent 15 years working in England.

Italian journey

Kauffman worked and travelled throughout Europe. This portrait offers the viewer the chance to take an armchair journey to 18th century Italy.

Glamorous outfit

The woman in the picture is not identified, but she certainly knew how to dress. The painting is focused on her richly brocaded red and gold outfit and her jewellery.

In the 1770s Kauffman painted many women wearing orientalised dress, which was very popular at the time. For a while it was thought that this woman was donning a Turkish or Greek costume.  However, a near identical version of this painting at Saltram in Devon is recorded as ‘A Woman in Neapolitan Dress’.

Kauffmann had an interest in traditional local costume from early in her career, so this is probably a costume painting. But why Neapolitan?

Bay of Naples

If you look closely, you can just about see the Bay of Naples and the still active volcano Vesuvius in the background.

Naples was one of the most popular destinations for British travellers in the 18th century .They were keen to educate themselves, buy art, visit the ruins of Pompeii and witness Vesuvius rumble.

Kauffman visited Naples several times and secured many commissions from wealthy travellers on their so-called Grand Tour. This kind of painting would have greatly appealed to them.

Author: Alexandra Loske, Royal Pavilion Curator

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