Mengs executed this portrait around 1745 in Dresden, a year after his return from his first visit to Rome where he had stayed with his father, Ismael Mengs, for four years. In Rome, the young artist studied the work of Michelangelo and Raphael and worked in Marco Benefial's workshop in 1742.
Upon Mengs' return in Dresden at Christmas 1744, Kurfrst August III von Sachsen, recognizing the artist's talent, called the entire family to an audience, and soon afterwards Anton Raphael was appointed Court Painter with appointments of 600 thalers a year. The young artist executed a portrait of Kurfrst Augustus III, now in Dresden, which proved to be a great success. Altogether the Kurfrst acquired 17 Mengs pastels, some were destroyed in World War II but the rest are preserved in the Gemldegalerie, Dresden.
All of Mengs' pastel portraits from this early period (1744-6) reveal Carriera's influence, not only in the pose but also in the broad use of the pastel, a fact that was already noted by contemporary critics.
Kurfrst Augustus III was already a great admirer of Rosalba Carriera, who was at the time the most sought after portraitist of the period. He had met her in Italy before he became Elector of Saxony, and from then on began to collect her pastels extensively. He owned no less than 150 of her works. A portrait of King Louis XV by Rosalba, very close in handling to this pastel, arrived in Dresden before 1765 and may have been Mengs source of inspiration for the present one, B. Sani, Rosalba Carriera, Turin, 1988, no. 148, pl. 122.
To better judge the abilities of the youthful artist, Kurfrst Augustus put him to a test. He asked Felicitas Sartori, a pupil of Rosalba and one of the foremost pastel portraitists in Dresden, to supervise Anton Raphael during the execution of the portrait of Mr. Hofman, Felicitas' husband (Dresden, Gemldegalerie).
This is a portrait of Frau Thiele, the daughter of the painter Alexander Johann Thiele (1685-1752). Thiele was a landscape painter at the court of Dresden and must have been close to Anton Raphael's father, who was a miniaturist for the court and of the same generation as Thiele. Another portrait of Frau Thiele is in the Gemldegalerie, Dresden, D. Honish, Anton Raphael Mengs, Recklinghausen, 1965, no. 40. Many of Mengs' pastels from the Dresden period are portraits of friends or of fellow-artists.
Mengs brillant technique in pastel was recognized all around Europe. In 1752, Mengs went to Italy again, but this time not to return to Dresden. In Rome, he wanted to compete with the most important artists of the period, took up history painting and dropped pastel portraits, prefering to do them in the more 'noble' but less brillant technique of oil. He only used pastels to execute sketches from life, the technique enabled him to draw the likeness in less than two hours. A pastel by Mengs dating from that period was sold at Christie's London, 6 July 1993, lot 189.