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Antonio Canova

Antonio Canova

Antonio Canova, Italian sculptore and painter, was born in Possagno, Treviso in 1757 and died in Venice in 1822. The son of stone-cutter, he spent the years of formation in Venice, first in a studio of a sculptor G.Bernardi, and later in school of nude of the Academy, and studying ancient works in the gallery of Filippo Farsetti. The early creations ordered by senator Giovanni Falier: Euridice and Orfeo (1773-1776) (Venice, Mus.Correr), reveal the reference to Bernini's art, that was overcame by the new research of composition and techniques already in sculptural group of Dedalo and Icaro (1777-1779) (Venice, Mus.Correr), which brought him fame and means to realize the desired trip to Rome, the city, where his principle activity took place. Here Canova studied intensively the ancient art, visited the lessons in school of nude of the French Academy and Capitoline Museum, and entered in contact with animated international environment of Rome, the center of the contemporary classic theory.

By the order of Venetian ambassador in Rome Girolamo Zulian, Canova created Teseo sul minotauro (1781-1783) (London, Victoria and Albert Mus.), inspired by the classic Greek sculpture. This work made him esteemed by the intellectuals such as Gavin Hamilton and Quatremere de Quincy (with who he remained friends for the whole life) and brought him important official orders. In the burial monuments of Clement XIV (1783-1787) (Rome, Santi Apostoli) and of Clement XIII (1783-1792) (Rome, St Peter's) the Bernini's suggestions still evident are transformed in other style, in pyramidal scheme with the symmetric balance of the figures. The type of the funeral monument was renewed completely by Canova in the monument to Maria Cristina d'Austria (see on the right) (1798-1805), Vienne, Augustinerkirche).

The theme of death, constant in the neoclassic culture, will be kept developed by Canova, in sense of perception of the burial monument as the memory about the hero as exemplum virtutis: monument to Vittorio Alfieri (1806-1810) (Florence, Santa Croce) and memory of the personal affection and virtue . Nevertheless, the most admired, by contemporaries, works of the artist were those dedicated to the mythology: Amore e Psiche (1787-1793) (Paris, Louvre); Venere e Adone (1789-1794) (Geneva, Villa La Grange); Ebe (see on the right) (1796) (Berlin, Nationalgal.), the sculptural groups and figures of sophisticated elegance, subtle elegance, in that Canova interpreted the ideal of grace, reaching the top of the arabesque fluid in famous group of Grazie (1812-1816).

The Napoleon epoch signed the summit of Canova's international fame: in this period were executed busts and sculptural portraits of the members of Napoleon's family, among them are: the big marble statue of Bonaparte in heroic nudity as Marte pacificatore (1803-1806) (London, Apsley House; copied in bronze (1811) Milan, courtyard of Brera), and that one of Paolina Borghese Bonaparte as Venere vincitrice (1804-1808) (Rome, Gall.Borghese), in which could be noticed the reference to the ancient sarcophagus and Veneras by Tiziano, balance between "ideal beauty" and "natural beauty".

Prestige and fame obtained by Canova charged him as a diplomat of culture in 1815, after the fall of Napoleon, the restitution to Italy its works of art, transferred in France as a result of the treaty of Telentino. The artist was already experienced in this kind of responsibility, because in 1802 was chosen as the inspector of Antichita' e Belle Arti and responsible for the arrangement of the Chiaramonte Museum in Vatican (1807-1810). (see on the right Letizia Ramolino Bonaparte: sketch in terracotta (1804) (Possagno, Gipsoteca).

The late works of Canova are full of afflicted pathos sensible to the revision of his own and classical ideology in art: La Maddalena svenuta (1819); Il compianto sul corpo del Cristo (1821) (Possagno, Gipsoteca); burial monument to Stuarts in St peter's (1817-1819); Venere e Marte (1816-1822) (London, Buckingham Palace). The particular reference to the sculptors of the 15th century is visible in the metopes for the temple in Possagno, which was erected on the private expenses of Canova and where the remains of the artist were transferred 8 years after his death.

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