The Birthplace of Antonio Canova is a typical 17th-century house. It comprises a central body on multiple floors, where all the activities took place during the day and at 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, and the wells.
After the earthquake that, in 1695, caused the collapse and destruction of many buildings in Possagno, the house was renovated and enlarged by adding more rooms. Today, visitors can admire the house that Canova renovated between the end of the 18th century, when the Turret on the last floor of the building was erected, soon becoming the studio of the artist, and the beginning of the 19th century, when he decided to create the so-called Room of the Mirrors for his guests.
View of the Birthplace, external South facade | ph credits Otium/Favotto
The few pieces of furniture that did not succumb to the ravages of time are original workpieces of the beginning of the 19th century, some of which coming from the Roman workshop of Canova. Today, the house of the artist serves as a varied and valuable art gallery that includes portraits of Antonio Canova, 15 oil paintings on canvas, tempera paintings on paper, a few engravings, drawings, some marble sculptures, working tools, memorabilia, and personal items of the artist.
Three rooms in particular offer an interesting insight into the life of the artist: the room where Canova was born on the first floor, the basement of the House where the Sculpting Studio was located, and the Turret used as a Library, where Canova painted the impressive altarpiece representing the Deposition of Christ, now in the Temple of Possagno.
Antonio Canova’s original dresses exhibited at the first floor of the Birthplace
Haunted by his lack of a proper education, Canova started to devote much of his time to reading and listening antique and modern literary classics on poetry, history, and critics, both in Italian and French. The sculptor, in fact, was not only used to read the chosen texts on his own, but he also loved to have someone read them out loud while he was working in his studio, so that he could always make the most of his time. The manifest result of this passion was the construction of a Turret, where the artist could dedicate himself to studying, that took place at the beginning of the 19th century. The building was designed for the purpose of collecting the numerous books he owned. The Turret represents a peculiar feature of the House and the Library it accommodates was once defined “extremely vast and renowned and open for the sake of the public”. In later life, the sculptor used the Turret as a place for meditation and reading. Today, this space houses the archive of Canovian busts.
The artist’s studio inside the Turret on the top floor of the Birthplace
The Birthplace hosts many tempera paintings on paper by Canova. Their peculiarity lies in the black background that takes inspiration from the Pompeian style.
The tempera paintings were created by Canova during his stay in Possagno from 1798 to 1804, and in the following years they were engraved and printed many times. They represent muses with Greek philosophers and writers, dancers and Nymphs with amorini (winged gods similar to Cupids). This peculiar facet of Canova is unexpected, gentle, colorful, and slightly humorous. The figures are “fluid as reasoning and beautiful as if they were made by the Graces’ hands” and they perfectly evoke a feminine classicism.
A considerable group of tempera paintings takes inspiration from the theme of dance, that Canova loved deeply. Dance is strictly related to the most profound ambition of his poetry: if his artworks strive for ideal beauty, dance encompasses a view of the human body in constant elevation, breaking free through dynamism and rhythm. The variety of poses is extraordinary and the repertoire of gestures the artist invented can undoubtedly compete with the theater performances of his period.
Antonio Canova, Venus with faun, 1792, oil on canvas