By Anne Leader

Antonio Canova was born 1 November 1757 in Possagno, near Treviso. Canova is the most recognized Italian Neoclassicist, known for his severe sculptures based on a strict ideal of classicism that many contemporaries preferred to the real thing. In addition to sculpting variations of popular mythical figures, he made numerous portraits for elite patrons; his most alluring is that of Pauline Bonaparte, wife of Prince Camillo Borghese and sister of Emperor Napoleon. Canova shows her as Venus Victrix, semi-nude and reclining on a couch. The Borghese family traced its heritage back to Aeneas, mythical founder of Rome and son of Venus, but Venus’ role as goddess of beauty may have been the main motivator behind the choice of subject. Canova was sought after widely for his tomb designs, the most prestigious being that of Maria Christina of Austria in Vienna.

Reference: Giuseppe Pavanello. “Canova, Antonio.” Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. Oxford University Press. subscriber/article/grove/art/T013721>.

Tomb of Maria Christina of Austria, Augustinian church, Vienna, marble, 1798–1805; Photo credit, Erich Lessing/Art Resource, NY

Signature and full view, Apollo Crowning Himself, marble, 1781. Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum

Cupid Awakening Psyche (detail), marble, 1783–93 (Paris, Musée du Louvre); Photo credit: Réunion des Musées Nationaux/Art Resource, NY

The Creation of Adam, full view and detail, 1821–1822, plaster, Gallerie dell’Accademia, Venice

Cain and Abel, 1821–1822, plaster, Gallerie dell’Accademia, Venice

Sacrifice of Isaac, 1821–1822, plaster, Gallerie dell’Accademia, Venice

Annunciation, 1821–1822, plaster, Gallerie dell’Accademia, Venice

Visitation, 1821–1822, plaster, Gallerie dell’Accademia, Venice

Paolina Borghese Bonaparte as Venus Victorious, marble, life-size, 1804–8 (Rome, Galleria Borghese); photo credit: Scala/Art Resource, NY

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