Canova around the world
Sought after and loved on an international scale, Antonio Canova had as clients the most influential personalities in Europe of his time, including sovereigns, pontiffs, and nobles from Paris, London, Vienna and the United States of America.
The Museo Gypsotheca Antonio Canova in Possagno holds all the original plaster models of the marbles scattered all around the world and constitutes a window into the best collections of the most important museums, from the Louvre in Paris, to Buckingham Palace and the Metropolitan in New York.
Visiting the Gypsotheca allows you to experience Canova’s entire artistic production even though the marbles are held in collections all over the world. Canova himself was a man and artist open to the world, he studied Latin, English and French by himself and let’s not forget he also embarked on many trips including, Vienna, twice to Paris and London.
Perseus, 1804-06, marble, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Canova and France
Antonio Canova had a very intense relationship with the Napoleonic court. Napoleon himself commissioned him two portraits and the infamous Napoleon as Mars the Peacemaker, that was censured by the emperor due to its blatant nakedness. Subsequently the art piece was bought by the English government for the Duke of Wellington, winner of the Battle of Waterloo.
If we travel to Paris today though, we know there are two Canovian marbles stored in the Louvre one of the most important Museums in Europe. In fact, both versions of Cupid and Psyche are preserved in 75001 Rue de Rivioli. The two pieces are due different versions of the same myth that tells the tormented love story between mortal Psyche and Eros, immortal son of Venus.
Canova depicts two young lovers in two different poses, the more popular “winged” version where Psyche faints after seeing the beauty of Eros, and the “stand-alone” version, where the two meet again after being apart and after the young girl had to overcome a series of challenges. A very poetic detail that deserves noticing in the sculpture, the butterfly.
Canova in London, between Chatsworth house and Buckingham Palace
In 1815 the artistic genius Canova was not a stranger to foreign sovereigns.
That year, when Canova had travelled to the English capital to authenticate the famous Parthenon Marbles brought to London by Lord Elgin, the prince regent at the time George IV commissioned the artist from Possagno the sculptural group Venus and Mars, currently displayed inside Buckingham Palace, along with the statue Dirke.
Always in England, in Chatsworth House, residence of the dukes of Devonshire, you can admire an outstanding collection of Canovian marbles, including the third version of Hebe, realized between 1808 and 1814 for John Campbell Lord Cawdor, and Sleeping Endymion. Another interesting story tied to the United Kingdom is the commission of the second version of The Graces by the Duke of Bedford while he was visiting Italy in 1814. Today you can find it, for seven years at a time, at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and the National Galley of Scotland in Edinburgh.
Canova in St. Petersburg
The Hermitage in St.Petersburg boasts one of the major collections of Canovain marbles. Most of the pieces are part of Josephine Beauharnais, friend of the artist, and her son’s Eugène Beauharnais’s magnificent collection. The art works arrived on Russian ground both by inheritance and because the Tzar bought many of Josephine de Beauharnais’s pieces.
Inside the museum you can admire several masterpieces including, the first version of The Graces, commissioned by Josephine just before her death, the two versions of Cupid and Psyche, Paris, The Penitent Maddalena, Orfeo and Elena’s bust.
Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss, 1794-96, marble, Hermitage, St.Petersburg
Canova in Vienna, the sepulchre of Maria Cristina d’Austria
In 1798 Antonio Canova was in Vienna, on that occasion Duke Alberto of Sassonia commissioned him a funerary monument for his wife, Maria Cristina of Austria.
The famous monument can be found inside the Church of the Augustinians Friars and it represents a hymn to death and to the memory of the dead.
While still on this Austrian path, at the Hofmobiliendepot Möbel Museum, you can admire the marble depicting Elisa Baiocchi Bonaparte as Muse Polimnia, whereas inside the Kunsthistorisches Museum you can find displayed Teseo fighting with the Centaur.
Theseus and Centaur, 1805-19, marble, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna
Geneva and Berlin. Venus and Adonis and Hebe
Between the years 1789-1794, Canova realized the sculptural group Venus and Adonis bought by the marquis of Salza, Francesco Berio, for his palace in Naples.
After the marquis’s death, his heirs put the sculpture on sale, and it was bought by Guillaume Favre, a distinguished citizen of Geneva, and he displayed it inside a small temple in his garden. Currently you can find it at the Musée d’Art et d’Histoire in Geneva.
Canova’s art works also reached the German capital, Berlin, where you can find and admire Hebe, sculpture commissioned in Venice towards the end of 1830 from the then King of Prussia.
Raleigh and George Washington
In 1815 the parliament of North Carolina, certain that no American sculptor was up to the task, commissioned Canova a monument in honor of George Washington.
The art piece was completed in 1820 and placed in the roundabout of the Senate building in Raleigh. In 1831 after a fire, the marble was destroyed, and the only testimony of Canova’s work is the plaster model preserved at the Gypsotheca in Possagno.
George Washington, 1818, ster, Museo Gypsotheca Antonio Canova, Possagno
Canova in Italy: Venice, Florence and Rome
Naturally, there are also many national collections that preserve the art works of the famous sculptor from Possagno.
The city of Venice, that witnessed the debut of the young sculptor, preserves in the Museo Correr in St.Marks Square some of Canova’s earlier work, including the sculptural group Orfeo and Euridice and Dedalo and Icarus.
In Florence, inside the Pitti Palace, you can admire Italic Venus, a piece commissioned by Ludovico I of Borbone to replace the Medici Venus that was stolen by the French troops during the Napoleonic campaigns.
Initially the statue was places inside the Tribuna degli Uffizi and it stayed there until it was moved to the Pitti Palace, when the original Medici Venus was brought back to Italy.
Another Canovian masterpiece tied to Florence is the Funerary Monument in honor of Vittorio Alfieri, famous poet and playwright. The art work is displayed inside the Basilica of Santa Croce, a place that boasts several famous burials, including Michelangelo, Galielo, Ugo Foscolo, and Gioacchino Rossini.
Rome and the Vatican City also hold a couple pieces by the genius from Possagno. For example, Galleria Borghese preserves Paolina Borghese as Winning Venus, commissioned to Canova by Camillo Borghese as a wedding gift to his wife. Inside the Vatican Museums there are multiple sculptures, such as Pugliatori, Triumphant Perseus, and Pope Pius VII’s bust. Not to be forgotten is what is held inside the most important church of the Catholic world, St.Peters. There are three pieces by Canova inside, the grandiose Funerary Monument for Clement XIII, the Cenotafio degli Stuart, and inside the crypt a portrait of Pius VI.
Funerary Monument for Vittorio Alfieri, 1806-10, marble, Basilica di Santa Croce, Florence