Angelica Kauffman was one of the handful of women in the eighteenth century to be an esteemed and respected artist whose talents were sought after. Kauffman also took a great role in the Neoclassical movement, preferring to place her subjects in a Greco-Roman atmosphere.
Kauffman also had a fondness for painting subjects with a moralistic message, especially when she could use stories from her beloved antiquity, such as her 1785 painting, Cornelia Presenting Her Children, the Gracchi, as Her Treasures. Now before I tell you the story behind this painting I want to selfish show why I enjoy this particular piece so much. Kauffman not only proves that she can take the wheel in the male-driven world of history painting, but that she could bring in her knowledge of human emotion. Here we have Cornelia presenting her two sons, with a causal gesture that has a strong impact. The two sons look both humble and serene as they enter, one holds a book to show that he going places with his knowledge.
As this moralistic tale goes, Cornelia was a Roman matron and the example of virtue. Romans were great lovers of virtue (in their women, at least) but that didn't necessarily mean that it was filled with the virtuous. Here, Cornelia's guest, shows off her new treasures, no doubt gifts from a conquering Roman husband. She then asks Cornelia to show her jewels to which Cornelia calls in her children and tells her that they are her, "treasures."
This is where Kauffman's skill in depicting human emotion, or perhaps females in general, comes into play. Just look at the matron's face. The history painting ends here and a more realistic depiction is revealed. We have all seen that gobsmacked expression before. I just can't decide if the proper caption would be, "Are you kidding me?" or "What the heck." since those are usually the two things that run through my head at a moment such as this. I'm sure that's one less superficial Roman matron who will be visiting Cornelia from now on.