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Antonio Canova

Antonio Canova

Antonio Canova

Antonio Canova (1757 – 1822) was an Italian Neoclassical sculptor, famous for his marble sculptures. Canova was regarded as one of the greatest of the Neoclassical artists; the Baroque and the Classical Revival inspired his artwork. Canova’s passion in sculptures were either Heroic compositions, compositions of Grace, or Tomb monuments. Canova was a highly recognized successful sculptor, and his skill and talent are evident in his work of “Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss.”

Antonio Canova was born in Venice, where his father was a stonecutter who died when Canova was three years old. He was put into the care of his paternal grandfather, who was a stonemason and a sculptor who specialized in altars with statues and low reliefs. His grandfather led Antonio into the art of sculpting. At the age of nine, Antonio Canova executed two small shrines of Carrara marble, which are still in existence. After these works, he was employed under his grandfather as a sculptor.

Antonio Canova worked in Venice, Rome, France, and England, and by 1800, Canova was the most celebrated artist in Europe. He promoted his reputation by publishing engravings of his works and having marble versions of plaster casts made in his workshop. He was so successful that he had patrons from across Europe, including France, England, Russia, Poland, Austria, and Holland. In 1820, Canova made a statue of George Washington for the state of North Carolina.

A Tour of Antonio Canova’s Art

  • Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss
    • “Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss” by Antonio Canova shows the mythological lovers at a moment of high emotion. It represents the god Cupid in the height of love and tenderness, immediately after awakening Psyche with a kiss. Having been awakened, Psyche reaches up toward her lover, Cupid, as he gently holds her by supporting her head and breast.

      This sculpture exemplifies Antonio Canova’s craftsmanship and skills in carving marble that provides a superb contrast between the smooth skin of Psyche and Cupid as compared to the surrounding elements. The detached draping around Psyche’s lower body, emphasizes the difference between the texture of skin and drapery. Beautiful curls and lines define the hair, and the feathery details create the realistic wings of Cupid. The rough stone texture provides the basis of the rock upon which the composition is placed. Museums: Hermitage Museum and Louvre Museum in Paris, France

  • The Three Graces (Hermitage Museum)     and   The Three Graces (Victoria and Albert Museum)
    • “The Three Graces” by Antonio Canova depicts the three mythological charities who were daughters of Zeus. The sky and thunder god in ancient Greek religion, who ruled as king of the gods of Mount Olympus.

      The three sisters are identified as Euphrosyne, Aglaea, and Thalia, from left to right. They represent youth/beauty (Thalia), mirth (Euphrosyne), elegance (Aglaea). The Graces presided over banquets and gatherings, to delight the guests of the gods. The Three Graces have inspired many artists and have served as subjects for many artists.

      The three goddesses are huddled together, their heads almost touching and standing leaning slightly inward, enjoying their closeness. Their hairstyles are similar, braided, and held in a knot. A peaceful balance is achieved, as the sisters embrace, united by their linked hands and by a scarf which provides some modesty. The unity of the Graces is one of the main themes of this masterpiece. Museums:  Hermitage Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum

  • Perseus with the Head of Medusa (Metropolitan Museum of Art – MET)
    • Perseus with the Head of Medusa by Antonio Canova depicts the Greek mythological story of Perseus beheading Medusa. Medusa was a hideous woman-faced Gorgon whose hair was turned to snakes, and anyone that looked at her was turned to stone. Perseus stands naked except for a cape hanging from his arm, sandals and a winged hat, triumphant with Medus’s snakey head in his raised hand.

      This statue is a replica of Canova’s famed marble of Perseus in the Vatican, first shown in 1801. Based on the Apollo Belvedere, which had been carried off to Paris under Napoleon, it was bought by Pope Pius VII and placed upon the pedestal where the Apollo had formerly stood. Medusa’s head is based on that of the antique Rondanini Medusa. Museum: Metropolitan Museum of Art – MET

  • Pauline Bonaparte as Venus Victrix
    • “Pauline Bonaparte as Venus Victrix” by Antonio Canova is a life-size reclining neo-Classical portrait sculpture reviving the ancient Roman artistic traditions of portraying mortals in the guise of the gods, and in depicting the female form reclining on a couch.  Canova was initially commissioned to depict Pauline Bonaparte fully clothed as the chaste goddess Diana, but Pauline insisted on Venus.

      Pauline Bonaparte had a reputation for promiscuity and may have enjoyed the controversy of posing naked. She also holds an apple in her hand, evoking Aphrodite’s victory in the “Judgement of Paris,” the story in which the golden apple was awarded to the most beautiful goddess.

      By the time of this depiction in 1808, nude portraits of living individuals were unusual, and high-rank subjects usually had strategically placed drapery. In this sculpture, the head is a realistic portrait but slightly idealized, while the nude torso is a neo-classically idealized female form and not necessarily based on the Pauline Bonaparte. Museum: Galleria Borghese

Antonio Canova

A Tour of Artists

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“I have read that the ancients when they had produced a sound,
used to modulate it, heightening and lowering its pitch without departing from the rules of harmony.
So must the artist do in working at the nude.”
– Antonio Canova

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Photo Credit:  1) Johann Baptist von Lampi the Younger [Public domain]