Zucchi was a member of a large family of artists based in Venice; he trained with his father, Francesco Zucchi (d. 1764), and his uncle, Carlo Zucchi (d. 1767), both engravers, before travelling to Rome in 1761. He moved to London in 1766, with his brother Giuseppe, to engrave plates for Robert Adam's Ruins of the Palace of the Emperor Diocletian at Spalatro in Dalmatia, where he soon became Adam's chief decorative painter. Among other works, Zucchi executed a series of capriccios in Harewood House, Yorkshire; illustrations of Homer and Virgil in Home House, London; and arabesque work in Lansdowne House (now in the Philadelphia Museum of Art). Zucchi was elected an Associate of the Royal Academy in 1770.
It was in London that Zucchi met Kauffmann, a founder member of the Royal Academy and fourteen years his junior. Kauffmann had been romantically linked to a number of artists during her career, including Nathaniel Dance, Sir Joshua Reynolds, Benjamin West, Gavin Hamilton and the fellow Swiss born Henry Fuseli. She was 26 at the time of her first marriage in London, in 1767, to an impostor, the so-called Count Frederick von Horn, who claimed to be a Swedish nobleman. The scandal, which resulted in public humiliation for Kauffmann, is relayed in her first published biography, by the author, artist and critic Giovanni Gherardo de Rossi (in 1810).
Zucchi and Kauffmann were married in 1781 and shortly afterwards returned to Italy, at which point Zucchi gave up his artistic career in order to assist his wife in her creative endeavours; he recorded her work in his 'Memorandum of Paintings of Maria Angelica Kauffmann'. On Zucchi's death in 1795, Kauffmann wrote to a friend that the death had stolen away her dearest companion: 'La morte mi ha rapito ciò che ebbe di piu Caro al mondo, il Consorte. Il mio dolore ecede ogni limiti, essendo la perdita mi air raparabile' (Letter from Kauffmann in Rome to Fortunata Sulgher Fanastici in Florence, dated 14 January 1796, cited in Angelica Kauffman: A Woman of Immense Talent, exhibition catalogue, Vorarlberger Landesmuseum, Bregenz and Angelika Kauffmann Museum, Schwarzenberg, 2007, p. 154).
Kauffmann painted a number of self-portraits, however, portraits of her husband are rare. She painted a larger version of this portrait type (oil on canvas, 76 x 63 in., Private Collection, ibid.), both pictures are likely to have been executed in the year of their marriage. Kauffmann also exhibited a kit-cat size portrait of Zucchi at the Royal Academy in 1771 (no. 118) (current location unknown).
We are grateful to Wendy Wassyng Roworth and Bettina Baumgärtel for their comments on this painting.