Anton Raphael Mengs

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Self-Portrait, 1744

Anton Raphael Mengs (born March 12, 1728 in Aussig , Bohemia , † June 29, 1779 in Rome ) was a German painter who became an important pioneer and representative of classicism .


Self-portrait, around 1775

Anton Raphael Mengs was born as the son of the Saxon court painter Ismael Mengs . He and his sister Theresa Concordia received their first drawing lessons from their father. From 1741 to 1744 he stayed in Rome with his father to study antiquity and to study the old masters , especially Raphael and Michelangelo . After his return he was appointed cabinet painter in Dresden at the age of seventeen .

Painting by Mengs above the main altar of the Catholic Court Church in Dresden

In 1746 Mengs traveled to Rome a second time. He converted to Catholicism and married the Roman Margherita Guazzi. In 1749 he returned to Dresden, where he was appointed the Saxon chief court painter at the court of Friedrich August II in 1751 and received an annual salary of 1000 thalers. In 1751 he returned to Rome after stints in Venice and Florence and a year later became a member of the Accademia di San Luca . In 1755 he met the archaeologist and art historian Johann Joachim Winckelmann , who soon became one of his closest friends and gave him a new understanding of ancient art through his ideas on art theory . This gave Winckelmann a great influence on Meng's painting. He brought about a change in his work from Rococo to Early Classicism, which made him one of the leading painters of the new art direction. Mengs received special support from his friend, Spanish diplomat and patron of the arts, José Nicolás de Azara , who supported him in the publication of his works.

1755 Mengs was by Pope Clement XIII. appointed Cavaliere di speron d'oro ("Knight of the Order of the Golden Spur"). In late 1759 he traveled to Naples to portray the royal family. In the same year Charles VII , King of the Two Sicilies , left Naples to succeed his father as King of Spain in Madrid. Mengs returned to Rome. In the spring he began the ceiling fresco The Parnassus in the Villa Albani , which is considered a key work of German classicism. In 1761 he traveled to Madrid. Together with Giovanni Battista Tiepolo he worked on the design of the royal palace . The fees for both artists were the same, a sign of the appreciation Mengs enjoyed at the Spanish court. In October 1766 there was a falling out between Winckelmann and Mengs over a painting (see below), whereby the contact between the two former friends almost completely ceased.

He then went back to Rome, where he was entrusted with an assignment in the Vatican (Camera dei Papiri) and was appointed President of the Accademia di San Luca, an office he held in 1771/72.

In 1772 he went back to Spain on the orders of the Spanish king to complete tasks that had begun there. There he met the young Francisco de Goya , whose talent he immediately recognized and for whom he secured a place in the royal carpet factory through Francisco Bayeus, who would later become his brother-in-law. Because of an illness he went back to Rome, where he arrived in the winter of 1775/76 to enjoy the mild winters there. After more than two years of tireless work, he died, whose self-portrait was already hung in the Uffizi under the picture of Raphael in 1773 , one year after his wife in Rome in 1779 and was buried in the Roman church of Santi Michele e Magno . His tomb was created by Vincenzo Pacetti .


Anton Raphael Mengs was friends with many artists and writers of his time, such as Margravine Wilhelmine von Bayreuth , Johann Joachim Winckelmann and Giacomo Casanova , who mentions him several times in his memoir Histoire de ma vie .

The international fame that Mengs enjoyed in his time is evident in his successive acceptance into the academies of Bologna , Rome, Florence , Genoa , Venice , Augsburg and Madrid . He was court painter to August III. , King of Poland and Elector of Saxony, and court painter to the King of the Two Sicilies, Charles VII. The book Thoughts on Beauty and Flavors in Painting , written by him and initially published anonymously in 1762, was used as a textbook in numerous academies. He was considered by many to be the greatest painter of his time. He can be seen with a bust in the Walhalla near Regensburg.

The Palatinate court painter Johann Wilhelm Hoffnas (1727–1795) was one of his students.

The painterly work


Mengs was a brilliant portrait painter. His portraits are of metallic clarity and precision. He painted the mighty of his time, from Pope Clement XIII. up to Frederick the Great, the kings of Saxony and Spain and the Russian tsarina Catherine II.

Paintings and frescoes

Mengs mastered the illusionistic ceiling painting developed and practiced in the Baroque with virtuosity. His ceiling frescoes Glorification of St. Eusebius in Rome, the Glorification of Hercules in the Palacio Real in Madrid and the Allegory of History in the Vatican are painted in the tradition of baroque illusionism .

The Parnassus (Study for the fresco in the Villa Albani), Hermitage , Saint Petersburg

Under the influence of Winckelmann, he made the ceiling painting The Parnassus - a hoard of artists and muses - for the Villa Albani in Rome , which differs from the aforementioned. In the manner of a framed panel painting, the picture shows Apollo surrounded by the muses with their mother Mnemosyne . The addition of one person allows the painter a strictly symmetrical arrangement of the figures. The picture alludes to the famous Parnassus picture of his great role model Raphael , with Mengs drastically reducing the number of figures and dressing and furnishing the figures according to the knowledge of ancient art at the time. The composition of the picture is based on the Nicolas Poussin tradition : flat rows of people, statuesque figures, no light-dark effects, no merging of colors. With the picture Mengs glorifies Cardinal Alessandro Albani as a patron of the arts.

The Parnassus is considered to be an exemplary implementation of Winckelmann's art theory, as he presented it in 1755 in his thoughts on the imitation of Greek works in painting and sculpture . It is considered to be the founding work of German classicism. The image plays a central role in Mengs' assessment of his position in art history. The derogatory remarks made about him by art historians in the 19th century are less likely to relate to his portraits than to fresco painting.

Art historical anecdote

Jupiter kisses Ganymede

A curiosity in art history is his fresco Jupiter kisses Ganymede , painted around 1758/59, which can be seen today in the Galleria Nazionale in Rome. This picture was the cause of a deep rift between Winckelmann and Mengs. It depicts an ancient topic for which there was previously no authentic source. In the fresco, the painter plays virtuously with the stylistic devices of the wall paintings just excavated in Pompeii . The picture was immediately accepted as an antique original, although some doubters spoke up. Goethe initially praised the picture and considered it to be an original. It was prematurely appreciated by Winckelmann in his history of the art of antiquity . The proof of a forgery was embarrassing for Winckelmann as an antiquarian, and he did not forgive his friend. According to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Mengs is said to have only admitted his authorship of the picture on his deathbed. What motivated Mengs to take this action cannot be clarified. With this picture, he met the expectations of his audience.


“The epitome of all the beauties described in the figures of the ancients can be found in the immortal works of Mr. Anton Raphael Meng, first court painter to the kings of Spain and von Pohlen, the greatest artist of his, and perhaps also of the following time. As a phoenix he was, as it were, awakened from the ashes of the first Raphael in order to teach the world about beauty in art and to achieve the highest flight of human powers in it. ”Johann Joachim Winckelmann

"Can one assert that in his works the imitation of that [art] of antiquity led to something other than the assembly of stone limbs with applied colors and the attachment of the soul store kept in the Copier portfolio, finally with the addition of borrowed movements of people, to whom the act depicted is alien. “ August Kestner

Works (selection)

Triumph of History over Time , 1772, Camera dei Papiri, Vatican, Rome
  • King August III , 1745, Dresden, Gemäldegalerie
  • Copy of the School of Athens , 1752–1755, for the Duke of Northumberland , Victoria and Albert Museum
  • Detailed studies in the Kunsthalle Karlsruhe and in the Kunsthalle Kiel (center piece, formerly part of the collection at Gut Emkendorf )
  • Judgment of Paris , 1756, St. Petersburg , Hermitage
  • Glory of St. Eusebius . 1757. Rome, ceiling fresco in the Eusebius Church.
  • Pope Clement XIII . 1758, Bologna, Pinacoteca Nationale
  • Johann Joachim Winckelmann , between 1758 and 1762, New York, Metropolitan Museum
  • King Ferdinand IV of Spain . 1760, Madrid, Museo del Prado
  • Parnassus , 1760–1761, ceiling fresco in the Villa Albani, Rome
  • Glorification of Heracles , 1762–1775, Madrid, ceiling fresco in the Palacio Real
  • Maria Luisa of Parma . around 1765, Paris, Louvre
  • Outpouring of the Holy Spirit . around 1765, St. Petersburg, Hermitage
  • Adoration of the Shepherds . 1770, Madrid, Museo del Prado
  • Self-portrait . after 1770, Berlin, State Picture Gallery
  • Mary with child and two angels . 1770, Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum
  • Allegory of History . 1772–1773, Rome, ceiling fresco in the Camera dei Papiri in the Vatican



  • Opera di Antonio Raffaello Mengs . Parma 1780.
  • Obras de D. Antonio Rafael Mengs, primo pintor da Camera del Rey. Publicadas por Don Joseph Nicolas de Azara. Madrid 1780.
  • Meng's works , translated by Christian Friedrich Prange . 1786.
  • The knight AR Meng's practical instruction in painting . Edited from Italian anew and with several additions accompanied by VH Schnorr von K. Leipzig 1818. Digitalisat the SLUB Dresden via EOD
  • Herbert von Eine (Ed.): Mengs. Letters to Raimondo Ghelli and Anton Maron . Göttingen 1973.
  • Helmut Pfotenhauser et al. (Ed.): Early classicism. Position and opposition: Winckelmann, Mengs, Heinse . Frankfurt am Main 1995.
  • AR Mengs, Thoughts on Beauty and Taste in Painting (Zurich 1762, repr. 1992).

Secondary literature

Web links

Commons : Anton Raphael Mengs  - album with pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Chiara Piva:  Pacetti, Vincenzo. In: Raffaele Romanelli (ed.): Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani (DBI). Volume 80:  Ottone I-Pansa. Istituto della Enciclopedia Italiana, Rome 2014.
  2. [Anton Raphael Mengs:] Thoughts on the beauty and the taste in painting. Dedicated to Mr. Johann Winkelmann by the author. Edited by J. Caspar Füeßli . Heidegger and Compagnie, Zurich 1762 ( digitized version ); annotated new edition: Helmut Pfotenhauer , Marcus Bernauer, Norbert Miller (eds.): Early Classicism. Position and opposition: Winckelmann, Mengs, Heinse (= library of art literature. Volume 2). Deutscher Klassiker Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 1995, ISBN 978-3-618-67020-9 , pp. 193–249.
  3. Steffi Röttgen: Winckelmann, Mengs and the German art. In: Thomas W. Gaehtgens (Ed.): Johann Joachim Winckelmann. 1717–1768 (= studies on the eighteenth century. Volume 7). Felix Meiner Verlag, Hamburg 1986, ISBN 3-7873-0666-8 , pp. 161-178 ( PDF with its own page number).
  4. ^ Viktor Carl: Lexicon of Palatinate Personalities. Hennig Verlag, Edenkoben 2004, ISBN 3-9804668-5-X , p. 376.
  5. ^ Johann Joachim Winckelmann: History of the art of antiquity. Volume 1. Dresden 1764, p. 184 ( digitized version ).
  6. [August Kestner]: On imitation in painting , Frankfurt am Main 1818, page 60.
  7. ^ The School of Athens
  8. ^ Copy from Raphael's School of Athens