Signed and dated on parapet lower right: Angelika Kauffmann/Pinxit 1785
As Mount Vesuvius erupts in the distance, the young Pliny continues his studies at his family’s villa—despite being urged to flee. Meanwhile, his uncle, Pliny the Elder, is sailing toward Vesuvius and will die trying to rescue a friend. Pliny’s letters comprise one of the great records of the catastrophe that destroyed Pompeii and Herculaneum. In one, he tells of being able to "hear the wails of women, the cries of children, the shouts of men . . . others were reaching to the gods . . . others declared the gods no more." This is one of three large-scale history paintings Kauffmann produced in Italy in 1785 for a Mr. Bowles, an English patron. As was noted when the work was first exhibited at London’s Royal Academy in 1786, Pliny has two left feet. The reason for this may be that Kauffmann, then among the most popular artists in Rome, evidently relied on her less-talented husband, Antonio Zucchi, to complete many of her commissions.
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