The Gypsotheca

The Gypsotheca

The Museo Antonio Canova in Possagno tells the fascinating story of the most important Neoclassical artist in the world.

It comprises:
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.