Antonio Canova

Antonio Canova was an Italian sculptor who became famous for his marble sculptures that delicately rendered nude flesh. The epitome of the neoclassical style, his work marked a return to classical refinement after the theatrical excesses of Baroque sculpture. Antonio Canova was born in Possagno, a village of the Republic of Venice. At three years old, Canova was deprived of both parents and was raised by his paternal grand-parents.

His family was from stone-cutters or minor statuaries. As soon as Canova's hand could hold a pencil, he was initiated into the principles of drawing and shown considerable taste in the execution of ornamental works. The early years of Canova were passed in study of sculpture and soon was working with his grandfather. Canova was first introduced to the patrician family Falier of Venice, who afterwards became his most zealous patron.

Canova was placed under the sculptor's apprenticeship of Bernardi, a sculptor of considerable eminence, who had taken up a temporary residence at Pagnano. With Bernardi he worked for two years, making considerable progress. When the master returned to Venice, where he soon afterwards died; Canova came with him to Venice and was placed under a nephew of the sculptor. After the termination of this engagement he began to work on his own account, and received from his patron an order for a group, Orpheus and Eurydice, a group of sculpture highly esteemed by his patron.

During his first years of work, he had regular attendance at the academy, where he carried off several prizes. But he relied far more on the study and imitation of nature. A large portion of his time was devoted to anatomy. Canova went to Rome in 1780. There, he studied on some of the most splendid relics of antiquity. The work which first established his fame at Rome was Theseus Vanquishing the Minotaur. Canova opened a studio and started to work on a monument in honor of Clement XIV which stamped the author as the first artist of modern times. This work and the following one raised his reputation so high that the most flattering offers were sent to him from the Russian court to induce him to remove to St Petersburg, but these were declined, although many of his finest works made their way to the Hermitage Museum. In 1815 he was commissioned by the Pope to superintend the transmission from Paris of those works of art which had formerly been conveyed thither under the direction of Napoleon. The same year, he gratified a wish he had long entertained of visiting London, where he received the highest tokens of esteem. Canova returned to Rome in the beginning of 1816.

In the last year of his life, he began to make preparations for erecting a temple in his native village, ultimately resulting in Tempio Canoviano, which was to contain, several of his works.During the period which intervened between commencing operations at Possagno and his death, he executed or finished some of his most striking works. Amongst these were the group Mars and Venus, the colossal figure of Pius VI, the Pietà, the St John, the recumbent Magdalen. The last performance which issued from his hand was a colossal bust of his friend, the Count Cicognara. Towards the latter end of the year 1822, he paid his annual visit to the place of his birth, when he experienced a relapse. He proceeded to Venice, and expired there at the age of nearly sixty-five. His disease was one which had affected him from an early age, caused by the continual use of carving-tools, producing a depression of the ribs. The most distinguished funeral honors were paid to his remains.

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