Angelica Kauffman painted prolifically and was one of the most famous female painters of not only her time but of all time, depending of course on who one asks. Her work in historical genre often depicted scenes or characters from Homer’s epics, the Iliad and The Odyssey. In her position in 18th century Europe, primarily in England, the context of this paper is to argue why she would use Homer’s epics and characters as those through which she painted images of the virtuous female. The intention of this essay is to argue that Kauffman used Homer’s epics as the literary foundation for her artwork on the virtuous woman because of the similarities between the war-torn Troy/Greece and the expectations both of and on women left behind.
Historical Background The way in which to identify why Kauffman would have chosen Homer’s works as an indicator of virtue in women is to connect it to the historical background of the works in Kauffman’s time. This involves a look at the violent revolution that occurred just a decade after these works by Kauffman were painted and the suggestion that for Kauffman, the paintings may have been something of a premonition based on the science and cultural acceptance of the woman’s body and of sexuality at that time. In short, Kauffman may have saw a need for virtue and used Homer’s classic but frightfully violent, conflict-driven epics as a means of displaying that need.
Kaufmann’s French Context The period during which Kauffman painted these works