National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.

June 11 – October 9, 2023

Antonio Canova, Dancer with Finger on Chin, marble, model 1809/1814, carved 1819/1823. Gift of Lillian Rojtman Berkman. Public Domain Image

Beginning in June, 2023, the National Gallery of Art, Washington and the Art Institute of Chicago have organised a free exhibition exploring the process by which Antonio Canova utilised clay models to bring his ideas for marble carvings to fruition.

Curated by C. D. Dickerson III (senior curator of European and American art, National Gallery of Art) and Emerson Bowyer (Searle Curator, Painting and Sculpture of Europe, the Art Institute of Chicago) the gallery’s website poses and answers the following question, in order to set the scene for the upcoming exhibition:

How does a sculptor turn an initial idea into a finished work of marble? For Antonio Canova (1757–1822), the most famous artist of Europe’s revolutionary period, the answer was with clay.

Working with his hands and small tools, Canova produced dazzling sketch models in clay, which helped him plan his designs for his large statues in marble. Imprinted with the fire of his imagination, these sketches were boldly executed in mere minutes. Canova also made more finished models, sensuous in their details, that he showed to patrons or used as guides for carving.

More than 30 of his some 60 or so surviving models reveal the artist’s extraordinary working process—a process that led to the creation of some of the most iconic works in the history of sculpture.

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