Maria Anna Angelica Kauffmann was born in Chur (Switzerland) on October 30, 1741. Her father was a poor man and mediocre painter, but apparently rather successful in teaching his daughter. She acquired several languages, read ceaselessly, and showed talent as a musician. Her greatest progress, however, was in painting. At the age of 12 she had become a notability, with bishops and nobles for her sitters. In 1754 her father took her to Milan. In 1763 she visited Rome. From Rome she passed to Bologna and Venice, being everywhere celebrated, as much for her talents as for her personal charms. She was exceptionally popular.
While at Venice, she was asked by Lady Wentworth, the wife of the English ambassador, to accompany her to London. The rank of Lady Wentworth opened society to her, and she was well received everywhere. The royal family especially showed her great favour.
Her best friend, however, was Sir Joshua Reynolds. From 1769 until 1782, she was an annual exhibitor, sending several pictures, generally classic or allegorical subjects. In 1773 she was appointed by the Academy to decorate St Paul's Cathedral, and it was she who, with Biagio Rebecca, painted the Academy's old lecture room at Somerset House.
When, in 1767, she was entrapped into a clandestine marriage with an adventurer who passed for a Swedish count. It is probable that her popularity declined a little due to her unfortunate marriage. But in 1781, after her first husband's death (from whom she had been living separated for a long time), she married Antonio Zucchi, a Venetian artist resident in England.
Shortly afterwards she retired to Rome, where she lived for 25 years with much of her old prestige. In 1782 she lost her father; and in 1795 her husband. She continued to contribute to the Academy, her last exhibit being in 1797. After this she produced very little, and on November 5, 1807 she died in Rome.