The Joy of Museums

Finding Beauty & Meaning in Museums

The Three Graces (V&A)

Three graces statue - Oleksandriia Park

“The Three Graces” by Antonio Canova’s is a Neoclassical statue of 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). This version was originally made for the Sculpture Gallery at Woburn Abbey, Bedfordshire, and was originally housed in a specially designed Temple of the Graces.

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.

This masterpiece is carved from white marble and demonstrates Canova’s ability to shape the stone to highlight the Graces’ soft flesh. This was a trademark of the Canova and this piece shows his leadership style in the Neoclassical movement in sculpture.

The Three Graces in the VandA - geograph.org.uk - 254508

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

Canova had first depicted the Graces in a painting of 1799. In 1810 he modelled a terracotta sketch (Musée de Lyon, France) and in 1812 the Empress Josephine (first wife of Napoleon I) ordered a full-size marble. The original marble version of this statue sculpted for Empress Josephine is exhibited at the Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg. This second version is now jointly owned by the National Galleries of Scotland and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and is alternately displayed at each.

Essential Facts:

  • Title:                   Three Graces
  • Artist:                 Antonio Canova
  • Year:                   1813 – 1816
  • Place Created:   Italy
  • Medium:            Marble
  • Dimensions       Height: 182 cm (71.7 in).
  • Museum:           Victoria and Albert Museum

Artist Essential Facts:

  • Name:                   Antonio Canova
  • Born:                     1757 – Possagno, Republic of Venice
  • Died:                     1822 (aged 64) – Venice, Lombardy–Venetia
  • Nationality:         Italian
  • Movement:          Neo-Classical
  • Notable works:
    • Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss
    • The Three Graces
    • Napoleon as Mars the Peacemaker
    • Venus Victrix

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“Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.” Michelangelo

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Photo Credit:  1) By Uk-Kamelot (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons 2) Colin Smith [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons