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MENGS, ANTON RAFAEL:

Austrian painter; born in Aussig, Bohemia, March 12, 1728; died in Rome June 29, 1779; son of Ismael Israel Mengs. Anton Mengs was early destined for an artist's career; and his father with much strictness kept him to his studies, although the boy at first evinced but little inclination or ability for that calling. In 1741 he was taken to Rome, where he studied the old masters, and upon his return to Dresden (1744) he was honored by King Augustus III. with the title of court painter. He obtained the royal permission to return to Rome to complete his studies, and in 1748 his first large canvas, "The Holy Family," appeared. A beautiful peasant girl, Margareta Guazzi, who had posed as a model for this painting, won his heart; and in order to marry her he abandoned the Jewish faith and was admitted into the Roman Catholic Church. Mengs again visited Dresden in 1749, but returned to Rome in 1752, where he spent the greater part of his life, and where most of his important works were painted. In 1754 he became the first director of the newly founded Painters' Academy in that city.

Mengs was an eclectic who endeavored to blend the peculiar beauties of the old masters Raffael, Titian, and Correggio. His taste was exquisite, his groupings and compositions simple and noble, his drawing always correct; while his coloring, with regard to which he took Titian for his example, was strong and true. Though his paintings lack the originality of genius, their force and beauty give them rank among the foremost works of art.

In Rome Mengs painted the following large pictures: "Saint Eusebius Surrounded by Angels" (on the ceiling of the Celestine Monastery; 1757); "Apollo and the Nine Muses on Parnassus" (on a ceiling in Cardinal Albani's villa); "History Writing on the Shoulders of Time"; "A Meeting of the Gods"; "Cleopatra." In 1761 Mengs was called to Madrid by King Charles III. of Spain to decorate the ceiling of the dining-hall in the royal palace. He painted "The Apotheosis of Trajan" and "The Hall of Fame," which latter is considered his masterpiece. In Madrid he completed also "The Ascension of Christ" for the altar of a new Catholic church in Dresden. Various other paintings by Mengs are in the possession of the art-galleries of many European capitals. Berlin has a "Holy Family"; Vienna, "St. Joseph's Dream," "The Virgin," "The Infant Savior," "The Annunciation," and "Infanta Maria Theresa"; St. Petersburg, "Andromeda Liberated by Perseus"; Dresden, "Cupid Sharpening an Arrow"; Madrid, "Christ's Release from Calvary" and "Mary of Magdala."

The "Opere di Antonio-Raffaelle Mengs" (2 vols., Parma, 1780) has been translated into German (by G. F. Prange, Halle, 1786), English (London, 1796), and French (by Jansen, Ratisbon, 1782; Paris, 1786). A young Englishman named Webb, to whom Mengs had expressed his ideas on art, published them for his own under the title "Untersuchungen über die Schönheit" (Zurich, 1771), which act of plagiarism gained him considerable fame.

Mengs had twenty children, seven of whom outlived him. Of these, five daughters were adopted by King Charles III. of Spain, who also accorded pensions to Mengs's two sons. Mengs bequeathed his valuable collections of drawings, vases, and gypsoplasts to the royal academies of art in Madrid and Dresden. Empress Catherine II. of Russia erected a monument to his memory in St. Peter's Church, Rome, where he was interred.

Bibliography:
  • Dictionnaire Universel Encyclopédique;
  • Brockhaus Konversations-Lexikon;
  • Meyers Konversations-Lexikon;
  • Nouvelle Biographie Générale;
  • Woermann, Ismael und Rafael Mengs, in Zeitschrift für Bildende Kunst, vol. v., 1893.
S. F. C.
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