The Museo Antonio Canova in Possagno tells the fascinating story of the most important Neoclassical artist in the world.
– the Gypsotheca, where the original plaster cast models of Antonio Canova’s masterpieces are kept;
– the Birthplace, where the artist’s paintings, drawings and clothes are displayed;
– the Garden, the “Brolo” and the Park that, together with the Library and the Historical Archive, complete the unique and original space in which the famous sculptor was born and found inspiration.
The beautiful artistic treasure guarded in Possagno is a fundamental point of reference for knowing Canova as an artist and appreciating all the masterpieces he created in one place. The plaster casts are in fact the original statues from which all the marble copies, now kept in the most important museums of the world, were created.
THE CANOVIAN GYPSOTHECA
The word “Gypsotheca” comes from Old Greek and means “collection of plasters”. The one in Possagno is the largest monographic Gypsotheca in Europe.
Bishop Giovanni Battista Sartori, stepbrother of Antonio Canova, decided to erect a building that could worthily host all the works of art that were found in the Roman workshop of Via delle Colonnette after the artist’s death. In 1829, all the sculptures left Rome and, departing from a boat in Civitavecchia, reached Marghera two weeks later. From the Venetian port, the artworks were taken to Possagno by cart.
The building was designed by the Venetian architect Francesco Lazzari to reproduce the setup of the artworks inside the artist’s atelier. The construction works began in 1834 under the direction of Giovanno Zardo and were completed in 1836. The setup was finalized in 1844, after Pasino Tonin, first curator of the Gypsotheca, had concluded his careful restoration of the sculptures.
In 1917, during the First World War, a shell broke through the roof of the Gypsotheca: some plaster casts were destroyed completely and dozens were ruined. The great restoration work undertaken by Stefano and Siro Serafin, father and son, made the Gypsotheca re-flourish and, in 1922, the Museum opened its doors again.
At the outbreak of the Second World War, in order to avoid further damages caused by possible bombings, the Gypsotheca was emptied partially: the statues were transferred and stored inside the Temple of Possagno, where they remained until 1946. The current setup aims at respecting the essence of the Museum that Giovanni Battista Sartori had imagined, the changes that were caused by the World Wars and the contribution of Carlo Scarpa, dating back to 1957.
THE NEW STRUCTURE BY CARLO SCARPA
In 1957, some Canovian works of art in Possagno were positioned according to a more adequate setup thanks to a new building, designed by the Venetian architect Carlo Scarpa (Venice, 1906 – Sendai, 1978).
The aim of the project was valuing the Canovian heritage that visitors could not admire, since it was stored in a warehouse, and planning an appropriate setup for the terracotta sketches. Scarpa managed to position those absolute masterpieces scenically, distributing them on shiny, staggered levels, inside a new structure, where the light can seep in from above.
Today, the new structure by Scarpa is the only Museum completely finalized by the architect and, together with the plaster cast models, all the clay and terracotta sketches, clear expression of the Canovian genius, are displayed.
The Birthplace of Canova is a typical 17th-century house. It comprises a central body on two floors, where all the activities took place during the day and the night, and all the annexes, such as the cellar, the storage closet, the long colonnades where the working tools were kept, the shed for draft animals, the carriage storage area, the wells...
After the earthquake (1695) that caused the collapse and the destruction of many buildings in Possagno, the house was renovated and enlarged by adding more rooms. Visitors today can admire the House that Canova renovated between the end of the 18th century, when the Torretta (“the Turret”) was built, and the beginning of the 19th century, when he decided to create the so-called Sala degli Specchi (“the Room of the Mirrors”).
The most interesting elements are certainly the monolithic sink made of Lumachella stone, the fireplace, the majestic Venetian-style kitchen with multiple braziers to keep the food warm.
The original furniture, now scarce, dates back to the first half of the 19th century: the dish cabinet and the dressers, the tables and the mirrors, the cooking pot to preserve perishable food and the clotheshorse for woolen garments. Inside the several rooms, it is possible to admire paintings, engravings, drawings and marble sculptures by the artist, as well as working tools and clothes. Three rooms in particular offer an interesting insight into the life of the artist: the room where Canova was born, the basement of the House where the sculpting studio was situated and the Turret used as a library, where Canova painted the impressive altarpiece representing the Deposition of Christ (now located in the Temple of Possagno).
THE GARDEN AND THE “BROLO”
The vast green area located in front of the House is organized according to the typical regional structure: a low hedge defines the path near the main entrance door, while some circular rose beds decorate and color the first part of the Garden. Walking to the South towards the magnificent wrought iron Gate, forged by skillful local artisans and used since the end of the 18th century, visitors can admire the “Brolo”, that is a typical orchard of Northern Italy, with varied and rare trees: from the tree Peony, the Buxus of the Balearic Islands, the Bougainvillea and the Lagerstroemia to the Star Magnolia, the Magnolia obovata, the Forsythia and the Calycanthus. In the Southwestern corner of the Brolo, in 1799 Canova planted a stone pine. Today, the vigorous tree still offers its shade during warm summer afternoons.
Beyond the surrounding walls and the impressive gate, visitors can catch sight of the Park, where the family of Canova harvested the forage for their animals. The Park is delimited by a belt of high trees with a very thick foliage. This area is traditionally known as the “persei”, to indicate the four fields that Canova bought after being paid (3,000 zecchini) for the statue of Perseus, concluded in 1801.