Francesco Hayez was born in Venice of a Venetian mother and a French father. Poverty caused him to be apprenticed to a restorer, but he began to to study painting in 1798. In 1809 he won a three-year scholarship to Rome, under the patronage of Canova and Count Cicognara, a noted art-lover who for years was his chief patron. In Rome he came in contact with the Nazarenes and was friendly with Ingres, who was the chief influence on his style, although he is regarded as the leading Romantic painter of Italy, mainly on account of his subjects.
In 1814, after a visit to Florence following an attack on him by a jealous lover, he won a scholarship to Naples, but the fall of Napoleonic power in 1815 ended it. He returned to Rome and, with Cicognara's help, got commissions for decorative paintings, including his first frescoes (1817) in the Vatican, paid for by Canova. Later, he also painted frescoes in the Royal Palace, Milan, but they were destroyed in 1943. In 1820 and 1821 he visited Milan, the headquarters of Italian literary Romanticism, and settled there in 1822, becoming a professor at the Brera in 1850 and Director in 1860. He was knighted by the Austrian Emperor and visited Vienna in 1835 and again in 1852, when he completed his portrait of Ferdinanad I.
His knowledge of contemporary French Romantic painting must have derived from engravings and photographs, as he does not seem ever to have visited France. By far his most famous picture, The Kiss (1859: Milan, Brera), is an example of the often sentimental costume history and biblical subjects which owe much to the influence of Delacroix and Delaroche (e.g. The Last Moments of Doge Faliero, 1867: Brera). His semi-classical nudes and 'fancy' heads, curiously like those of Etty, are halfway between Ingres and Delacroix, but his masterly portraits, especially of aristocratic ladies, can hold their own with Ingres himself. He painted almost all the eminent men of his time, including the writers Manzini and Massimo d'Azeglio, the statesman Cavour (1864: from a death-mask), the composer Rossini and many others. In his old age he exploited in his self-portraits his resemblance to Titian.
The largest collection of his works is in the Brera, Milan, and others are in Berlin, Florence (Uffizi), Naples, Rome (Gall d'Arte Mod.), Turin and Vienna.
Source: The Penguin Dictionary of Art and Artists (Penguin Reference Books)