Anton Raphael Mengs (March 12, 1728 June 29, 1779) is a famous German artist of the 18th century, an outstanding master of historical and portrait painting. Anton Raphael Mengs was a prominent exponent of neoclassicism, although many of his paintings are influenced by the dominant Rococo style of that era. The painter’s work was highly appreciated by his contemporaries for the balance and clarity of the drawing, and among his customers there were many royals and influential European nobles. The master’s biography is full of numerous travels and interesting events; he also devoted a lot of time and effort to teaching young colleagues.
Anton Raphael Mengs was the most famous, but far from the only representative of the family dynasty of artists. In addition to him, his father Ismael Mengs, as well as his daughter Anna Maria Mengs and two sisters, Teresa (Therese Concordia Maron) and Julia (Julia Charlotte Mengs), left a bright mark in the history of European painting.
Biography of Anton Raphael Mengs
Anton Raphael Mengs was born on March 12, 1728 in the town of Aussig, which today is called Usti nad Labom and is located on the territory of the Czech Republic. He was the illegitimate son of the court painter Elector of Saxony and the family servant Charlotte Bormann. Despite this, the father immediately after birth recognized him as his son and personally took up the upbringing of the boy.
It was Mengs Sr. who became the first mentor of Anton Raphael and taught him the basics of painting in his Dresden studio. And in 1741, he and his father left for Rome, where the young artist was able to see firsthand the masterpieces of the ancient masters and, under their influence, at the age of 13, he began to paint the first pictures. In the Italian capital, the young man continued his studies at the workshop of Marco Benefial, and then, in 1744, returned to Dresden, where he was offered the position of an artist at the court of the Saxon ruler.
Despite good working conditions and a solid salary, Mengs did not stay in Germany for long and after 2 years he again went to Rome, where, barely reaching the age of 18, he married a local girl Margarita Guazzi. This marriage can be fully called successful for the artist, they happily lived with his wife for 33 years and they had 20 children.
Apparently, he could not stay in one place for a long time and loved to travel.
Therefore, in 1749, he returned to Dresden again, where this time he was offered the position of chief court artist and significantly increased his salary. Moreover, the young painter even managed to achieve the right to leave Saxony for a long time, and he lived most of the year in Rome, and not in Dresden.
In the early 1750s, in the Italian capital, Mengs met Cardinal Alessandro Albani, who for many years became his patron. An influential church dignitary helped the young artist find generous customers, and since that time the master has never experienced financial difficulties. The next decade was the peak of the painter’s career, he created several iconic works, including a grandiose fresco painting at the Villa Albani and the altarpiece “Ascension” for a Catholic church in Dresden.
In 1759, Mengs was appointed court painter to King Charles of Naples, who soon inherited the Spanish crown from his father and invited the master to move with him to Madrid. Here he was entrusted with painting the walls of the New Royal Palace, and the painter worked on this grandiose task for the next 10 years.
Despite the excellent attitude from the Spanish monarch, in the mid-1770s, Anton Raphael Mengs decided to return to Rome.
By that time, he began to have serious health problems, he did not tolerate the Madrid winters well and often suffered from colds. But the Italian climate did not bring the artist the expected recovery and, despite the efforts of the best Roman doctors, the condition of the recognized master of painting was rapidly deteriorating.
At the height of his fame, 51-year-old Anton Raphael Mengs died in Rome on June 29, 1779, and his body was buried with honors in the tomb of the Roman Church of St. Michael. The Spanish king gave the artist’s seven youngest children a substantial pension. The tombstone at the master’s grave in 1782 was created by the great sculptor Vincenzo Pacetti.
The most famous paintings by Anton Raphael Mengs
The brilliant painter has created many wonderful works of art during his creative career. And yet, some of the most famous paintings by Anton Raphael Mengs include:
- The altarpiece “Ascension” (1751) is a work that adorns the main altar of the Catholic court church in Dresden. The artist masterfully depicted in this picture the figure of the Savior surrounded by angels and apostles at the moment of ascension to heaven.
- The fresco painting “Parnassus” (1756-1761) is a monumental work created for the Villa Albani in Rome. In the center of the multi-figured composition, the artist placed Apollo, and around the ancient Greek god, viewers can see graceful muses in traditional antique robes.
- Jupiter Kisses Ganymede (1758-1759) is a unique fresco that many contemporaries considered a true masterpiece of ancient Roman art. According to legend, just before his death, the artist confessed to his friends that this was his work of authorship.
- “The Triumph of History over Time” (1772) is one of the last masterpieces of the painter, written by him a year before his death. The master created this allegorical work especially for the Vatican Library by order of the Roman pontiff.
Anton Raphael Mengs is rightfully considered a great master of historical painting and one of the best portrait painters of his era. He left to descendants many masterpieces of monumental and easel painting, which still attract millions of connoisseurs of fine art around the world to museums.