1 November 2015

Antonio Canova - sculptor

Genius who could bring marble to life 

Sculptor Antonio Canova was born on this day in 1757 in Possagno in the hills near Asolo in the Veneto.

He became famous for creating lifelike figures, possessing the ability to make the marble he worked with resemble nude flesh. One of his masterpieces is the group, The Three Graces, now in the Victoria and Albert museum in London.

Canova’s father and grandfather were both stone cutters and his grandfather taught him to draw at an early age.

The noble Falier family of Venice took an interest in Canova’s talent and brought him to the city to learn his trade in the workshop of Giuseppe Bernardi.

Born on 1 November 1757, Canova learnt his trade
in a workshop in Venice

Canova also studied anatomy, history and languages and later moved to work in Rome. His first big success was his funerary monument to Clement XIV, which was inaugurated in the Basilica dei Santi Apostoli.

The sculptor travelled to France and England and when he returned to Italy was made Marquis of Ischia and given an annual pension.

He died in Venice at the age of 64 and was buried in Tempio Canova in Possagno, the town of his birth. Canova’s heart was interred in a marble pyramid he had designed as a mausoleum for the painter, Titian, in the Frari church in Venice.

Throughout his career, Canova was fascinated by mythology and frequently drew three, dancing, nude figures. His first sculpture of The Graces, which was in terracotta, is now in a museum in Lyon. A marble version was made for the Empress Josephine, the estranged wife of Napoleon Bonaparte, and is now in a museum in St Petersburg, Russia.

Canova was commissioned to make another group of The Three Graces in 1814 for Woburn Abbey by the sixth Duke of Bedford, who visited the sculptor in his workshop in Rome. This work was later acquired by the Victoria and Albert museum.

The Three Graces
in the V & A
Picture: Colin Smith
Travel tip:

Canova’s heart is buried in a marble pyramid designed by himself, in the Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari in Venice. This huge Gothic-style church is in San Polo.The Frari also houses the tombs of Monteverdi, Rossini and Doge Nicolo Tron as well as works of art by Titian, Bellini and Donatello. The church is open daily from 9.00 to 5.30 pm and on Sundays from 1.00 to 5.30 pm.

Travel tip:

1 November is a religious and public holiday in Italy when banks and public buildings are closed. Tutti i santi, or Ognissanti, as the holiday is also known, honours all the saints collectively. For Italians who are not named after a particular saint, it is their chance to have an onomastico (name day) or feast day.


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