A child prodigy who was producing commissioned portraits in her early teens, Kauffman was trained by her father, the muralist Johann Joseph Kauffman (b. 1707, Schwarzenberg, Austria). During the early 1760s, she traveled through Switzerland, Austria, and Italy working as her father’s assistant. This transient life provided her the rare opportunity for a woman to see and copy many classical and Renaissance masterworks and to meet leaders of the popular new movement known as Neoclassicism.
During a three-year stay in Italy, Kauffman made her reputation as a painter of portraits; she also produced history paintings. Recognition of her accomplishments is indicated by her election to Rome’s Accademia di San Luca in 1765. In 1766, Kauffman moved to London, where she achieved immediate success as a portraitist. Over the next 16 years, she exhibited regularly at the prestigious Royal Academy and worked for a glittering array of aristocratic and royal patrons.
In 1781, Kauffman married the painter Antonio Zucchi, who succeeded her father as her business manager. By the time of her death, she had achieved such renown that her funeral was directed by the prominent Neoclassical sculptor Antonio Canova, who based it on the funeral of the Renaissance master Raphael.