Sunday, December 16, 2007

Antonio Canova

Antonio Canova (November 1, 1757 - October 13, 1822) was an Italian sculptor who became famous for his marble sculptures that delicately rendered nude flesh. The epitome of the neoclassical sculptor, his work marked a return to classical refinement after the theatrical excesses of Baroque art.

Antonio Canova was born in Possagno, a village in the Veneto situated amid the recesses of the hills of Asolo, where these form the last undulations of the Venetian Alps, as they subside into the plains of Treviso. At three years of age Canova was deprived of both parents, his father dying and his mother remarrying. Their loss, however, was compensated by the tender solicitude and care of his paternal grandfather and grandmother, the latter of whom lived to experience in her turn the kindest personal attention from her grandson, who, when he had the means, gave her an asylum in his house at Rome.

His father and grandfather followed the occupation of stone-cutters or minor statuaries; and it is said that their family had for several ages supplied Possagno with members of that calling. As soon as Canova's hand could hold a pencil, he was initiated into the principles of drawing by his grandfather Pasino. The latter possessed some knowledge both of drawing and of architecture, designed well, and showed considerable taste in the execution of ornamental works. He was greatly attached to his art; and upon his young charge he looked as one who was to perpetuate, not only the family name, but also the family profession.

The early years of Canova were passed in study. The bias of his mind was to sculpture, and the facilities afforded for the gratification of this predilection in the workshop of his grandfather were eagerly improved. In his ninth year he executed two small shrines of Carrara marble, which are still extant. Soon after this period he appears to have been constantly employed under his grandfather. Amongst those who patronized the old man was the patrician family Falier of Venice, and by this means young Canova was first introduced to the senator of that name, who afterwards became his most zealous patron.

The kindness of some monks supplied him with his first workshop, which was the vacant cell of a monastery. Here for nearly four years he labored with the greatest perseverance and industry. He was also regular in his 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 also devoted to anatomy, which science was regarded by him as the secret of the art. He likewise frequented places of public amusement, where he carefully studied the expressions and attitudes of the performers. He formed a resolution, which was faithfully adhered to for several years, never to close his eyes at night without having produced some design. Whatever was likely to forward his advancement in sculpture he studied with ardour. On archaeological pursuits he bestowed considerable attention. With ancient and modern history he rendered himself well acquainted and he also began to acquire some of the continental languages.

Three years had now elapsed without any production coming from his chisel. He began, however, to complete the group for his patron, and the Orpheus which followed evinced the great advance he had made. The work was universally applauded, and laid the foundation of his fame. Several groups succeeded this performance, amongst which was that of Daedalus and Icarus, the most celebrated work of his noviciate. The terseness of style and the faithful imitation of nature which characterized them called forth the warmest admiration. His merits and reputation being now generally recognized, his thoughts began to turn from the shores of the Adriatic to the banks of the Tiber, for which he set out at the commencement of his twenty-fourth year.

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