Cornelia, Mother of the Gracchi, Pointing to her Children as her Treasures

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Angelica Kauffman, Cornelia, Mother of the Gracchi, Pointing to her Children as her Treasures, 1785

Cornelia loves her children. She wants for them to become heroes like their father, Punic War veteran Scipio Africanus. So indicates the history associated with this painting, as Cornelia devoted her life to raising her sons to become successful politicians. The artist Angelica Kauffman captures Cornelia at a point of philosophical triumph. While the woman on the right clutches her jewels in surprise her friend's indifference to them, Cornelia indicates her children, Gaius and Tiberius, as her worldly treasures, choosing love over materialism. She even wears simpler clothing than the other colorfully-garbed woman, constituting more symbolism.

The painting has a heartening warmth of subject and color and delicately understated emotions, making it graceful and immediately appealing to the eye. Kauffman, a popular portaitist, also worked to paint royal and noble families, so she had practice implementing many of the details displayed above, like family resemblances and stately, impressive poses (Cornelia as Mary, anyone?). Neoclassical nuances include the plain background, deliberate pyramid shape in composition, the clearly Roman subject matter, and fable-like moral.

Kauffman, one of the rare successful female artists of her time, painted this scene in Britain, between the American and French revolutions and during the Industrial Revolution. New industry in cities put farms out of work, leading to an influx of citizens into urban areas. Crime increased with a higher concentration of people, and families became less tightly joined as their members, including women, went to work long hours at different jobs to sustain themselves. This led not only to less emphasis on marriage but thereby less on childbirth and care, which women could not do while working 14-hour factory shifts.  With the country in the throes of moral turmoil, Kauffman painted a portrait illustrating family values and their own simple nobility.

Another interesting aspect of the painting is the implications of putting peoples' needs over most material gain. Perhaps, in a way, this ties back to the tenets of the utilitarian movement arising in Britain at the time. Utilitarian writers influenced government with the philosophy of making decisions to benefit the greatest number of people, maximizing utility and happiness. Kauffman tells viewers to value other people and their needs above their own, as others' successes will bring make them happy as well. Furthermore, Cornelia historically raised her sons to be successful populist politicians, especially famous for their land distribution policies. Utilitarians also called for preventive measures such as a police force to encourage people to remember their morals. Her painting is similarly a preventive measure against the declining moral character of the British citizenry and a gentle reminder to love and value family above all else.

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