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Although Anton Rafael Mengs was born in Bohemia he was of German ancestry, his parents returning to Saxony soon after his birth. While he may be considered the leading German painter of the eighteenth century he had an international career. Not only did he work for the Elector of Saxony (who was also King of Poland) but for the Emperor in Vienna, the Pope in Rome and the Spanish and Neapolitan Crowns. He also enjoyed a considerable reputation as a portraitist, painting many of the leading visitors to Rome as well as two profound self-portraits in several variants. His paintings of members of the Spanish royal family, both the highly finished elaborately detailed court portraits, and the more intimate paintings of heads, are among his most accomplished works. Although he died at the early age of fifty he had a profound influence not only on his native contemporaries but also on Roman, French and Spanish artists.
Mengs received his earliest training from his father in Dresden and during a youthful sojourn in Rome, where he studied the great Italian renaissance painters and worked in the studio of Marco Benefial. When he returned to Saxony his prodigious talent earned him the appointment as court painter to the Elector Augustus III. Nonetheless, he spent much of his career in Italy, developing a close relationship with the antiquarian Johann Winckelman whose writings inspired the painter’s neoclassical works. At the same time the influence of the Roman baroque remained strong, particularly in his religious paintings. Mengs’ abilities were further tested when he was commissioned to paint a series of portraits for Augustus III’s son in law, Charles VII, at the court of Naples. In October 1759 Charles VII inherited the Spanish Crown as Charles III and, as his court painter, Mengs spent several years in Madrid painting decorations in the Royal Palace.
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