MERCURY SLAYS ARGUS
Indistinctly inscribed u.l.
Grey wash over pen and ink heightened with white chalk
31 x 28 cm
Anonymous Sale, Christie's, London, British Watercolours, 17.11.1992, Lot 6 (Part of);
With Abbott and Holder, London
The present work is typical of Zucchi's prepared illustrations and shows the story from Greek mythology told in Ovid's Metamorphoses, Book 1. Its composition is indebted to Zucchi's teacher Amigoni, who painted this subject for a decorative scheme at Moor Park, Hertfordshire.
Antonio Zucchi was born in Venice and studied first under his uncle Carlo Zucchi and later under Francesco Fontebasso and Jacopo Amigoni. The latter had a profound influence on the young artist's early works. Zucchi began his career as a history painter, being elected a member of the Accademia di Pittore e Scultore in 1759. An important early encounter came in 1760 when the young Zucchi was introduced to the British architect James Adam by Charles-Louis Clérisseau (who had been employed as Adam's drawing master).
Zucchi went on to paint a portrait of Adam which is now in the Victoria & Albert Museum, and Adam would attempt to persuade Zucchi to return with him to London to work for his architectural practice. Three years after this, in 1766, Zucchi travelled to London with his brother Giuseppe and became Adams' chef decorative painter, producing numerous illustrations from the classics for ceiling designs, arabesque scenes and large landscape capriccios.
Zucchi was elected an associate of the Royal Academy in 1770 and worked on numerous important Adams commissions including Kenwood, Newby Hall, Osterley Park, Nostell Priory, Luton House and Saltram House. During his time in England he met Angelica Kauffman, an artist who - largely as a result of the social mores of her day - was regarded as a somewhat infamous character for her close relationship with Sir Joshua Reynolds and her previous marriage to a fraudulent imposter. They soon married and together moved to Rome, where they worked seperately, in accordance with their legal agreement which stood as a sort of proto pre-nuptial agreement. It seems that her marriage to Zucchi was one of "companionship" (1) and that he gained more from it than she, who had already won international acclaim. The chief legacy of their marriage was Zucchi's detailed records of his wife's career and commissions, which includes information on her early years and put together an important element of what would later become a catalogue raisonné of the renowned artist.
(1) Cf. W.W. Roworth, Review: Documenting Angelica Kauffman's Life and Art, Eighteenth-Century Studies, Vol. 37, No. 3 (Spring 2004), Critical Networks, pp. 478-482