For a discussion of Zucchi's decorative scheme for Portman Square see: E. Croft-Murray, Decorative Painting in England 1537-1837, London, 1970, vol. II, pp. 296-300; K. Garlick and A. Macintyre, eds. The Diary of Joseph Farington, London, 1978, vol. I, p. 109; E. Harris, The Genius of Robert Adam, His Interiors, Yale; University Press, New Haven and London, 2001, p. 313-5; and Whinney, Home House, London, 1969.
Zucchi was born in Venice where he was trained by Jacopo Amiconi and Francesco Fontebasso. He accompanied James Adam on his Grand Tour with Charles-Louis Clérisseau from 1760 to 1763 and came to England in 1766 on the invitation of Robert Adam. As principal draughtsman and decorative painter to the Adam brothers from 1766 to 1781, he was employed on the embellishment of approximately 25 of their interiors. In 1781 he married the Swiss painter, Angelica Kauffman, and retired to Rome where he died. Zucchi's work is frequently attributed to Angelica.
This drawing is the finished sketch or presentation design for the oil painting, signed and dated 'Ant. Zucchi. 1776' above the chimney-piece in the Library at Home House, 20 Portman Square, London. The picture, which is still in its original position, forms part of a comprehensive scheme of painted decoration executed by Zucchi for the principal reception rooms of this important London town-house, designed by Robert Adam between 1775 and 1777 for Elizabeth, Dowager Countess of Home.
Home House is Adam's finest and best preserved surviving town-house, and Zucchi's paintings in the Library - most of which remain in situ - constitute perhaps his most extensive and iconologically elaborate contribution to any single Adam interior.
The subject of the overmantel is recorded in a rare 18th-century pamphlet entitled Subjects of the Pictures painted by Anthony Zucchi For the Different Apartments at the Countess Dowager of Home's House in Portman Square, which describes the iconography of all Zucchi's paintings. Further to this, Dr Eileen Harris has pointed out that King Alfred the Great and Queen Elizabeth I (the Countess of Home's namesake) are associated not only with justice and faith, but also with the founding of the British Navy and the consummation of its power in the defeat of the Armada. The nautical references in Zucchi's painting complete the theme of Adam's chimney-piece which is carved with navigational instruments alluding to the maritime activities of the Countess of Home's Jamaican ancestors and the naval careers of the Duke of Cumberland and the Hon. James Luttrell R.N. to whom she was related by marriage. Engravings by George Vertue have been identified as the source of the portraits of Alfred and Elizabeth I.
The rest of the room, the ceiling and walls, were decorated with an all-encompassing programme of paintings illustrating moral essays by Addison from The Spectator, personifications of the Arts and Sciences, grisaille heads of celebrated Poets and Philosophers, and - over the bookcases - religious subjects. A payment made by Lady Home to Zucchi of £50. in July, 1777, may be for this oil painting.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Zucchi's complex decorative scheme is the possible involvement of the French Revolutionary leader Jean-Paul Marat (murdered by Charlotte Corday in 1793). According to the diarist Joseph Farington, Zucchi befriended Marat during his sojourn in England and 'had the highest opinion of his [Marat's] abilities. Being a man of extensive classical reading, Marat continually proposed subjects which he had selected for Zucchi to design'. This was in 1775-6 - exactly the same time as Zucchi's overmantel painting with its extraordinarily (and uncharacteristically) elaborate and learned symbolism.
Little is known of the provenance of this drawing. As a presentation drawing it presumably remained either with the artist or his patron. It later passed into the collection of William Mayor, an important collector of Old Master drawings, where it was listed as no. 967 in his collection. In the Major collection catalogue this drawing was attributed to Kauffmann, and the inscription mistranscribed so the drawing has been traditionally identified as Kauffmann. The correct attribution and indentification have only recently come to light.
We are grateful to Dr Eileen Harris for providing this catalogue entry.