By Costanza Beltrami

A long-forgotten sculpture of Peace by neo-classical sculptor Antonio Canova (1757–1822) will be auctioned by Sotheby’s on 4 July. In preparation for this sale the work, one of very few by the famed artist to remain in private ownership, will be displayed in public for the first time since it was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1817.  

Peace is a marble bust of antique beauty. Representing the personification of a political ideal, it exemplifies Canova’s desire to communicate lofty moral messages with virtuosic carving of ethereal purity. It also reveals the international connections of the artist, whose high-minded, historicising art communicated the survival of time-hallowed classical principles at a time when Europe was reeling from the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars. 

Canova captured the outlook of the Restoration not only in his artistic practice, but also in his activities as a government agent and advisor. For example, in 1815—after Napoleon’s final demise to St Helen—Arthur Wellesley, first Duke of Wellington, William Richard Hamilton (1777–1859) and other prominent art lovers helped the artist in a quest to recover the Italian works of art looted by the French troops in the recent war. In the same year, he was invited to travel to London to authenticate the Pantheon marbles, recently exported to the country by Thomas Bruce, 7th Earl of Elgin.  

Among Canova’s many connections to the English nobility was John Campbell, Lord Cawdor, friend, patron and first owner of PeaceHe displayed the bust in one of the 150 art-filled rooms of his mansion at Stackpole Court in Pembrokeshire. By the time of the mansion’s demolition in the 1960s, the identity of Canova’s bust had been forgotten. Its authorship and history have only recently been retraced by the private owner who is now offering it for sale.

Antonio Canova, Peace. Source: Sotheby’s

References: “Canova Bust of Peace on sale in first public outing in 200 years,” The Guardian, 27 May 2018.

Giuseppe Pavanello, “Canova, Antonio,“ Grove Art Online,  http:////

Further reading: Satish Padiyar, Chains: David, Canova, and the Fall of the Public Hero in Postrevolutionary France (Philadelphia: Penn State University Press, 2007)

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