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The Three Graces (V&A)

The Three Graces in the VandA - - 254508

The Three Graces

“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 initially made for the Sculpture Gallery at Woburn Abbey, Bedfordshire, and was initially 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 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 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 the central 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 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.

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; his artwork was inspired by the Baroque and the Classical Revival. Canova’s passion in sculptures were either Heroic compositions, compositions of Grace, or Tomb monuments.

Antonio Canova was born in the Venetian Republic and unfortunately, his father was a stonecutter, died when Canova was three years old, Fortunately, he was put into the care of his paternal grandfather who was a stonemason and a sculptor who specialised 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.

Three Graces

  • 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

Antonio Canova

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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


Photo Credit:  1)Colin Smith / The Three Graces in the V&A