Late Canova sparkles at New York Met
'Last Seven Works' fetes artist's lesser-known spiritual side24 January, 12:36
Canova was famous for his elegant rendering of mythological nudes, like his sensual masterpieces "Psyche Revived by Cupid's Kiss" at the Louvre in Paris and "The Three Graces" at the Victoria & Albert in London. Canova's Paolina Borghese as Venus Victorious immortalizes the lush beauty of Napoleon Bonaparte's semi-nude younger sister shortly after her marriage to the Roman noble Camillo Borghese. But The Last Seven Works, which runs January 22 - April 27 at the Met, shows a lesser-known, spiritual side of the Venetian artist. The exhibit displays what Canova chose to do as an older man, facing the twilight of his life, for Possagno, his hometown at the foot of the Alps near Treviso, where his grandparents raised him and first taught him to work stone.
The seven full-scale plaster models illustrate scenes from the Old and New Testaments as part of a project to create 32 low reliefs for the Tempio Canoviano, a church that he designed after the Pantheon in Rome, financed himself, and built in Possagno, which became his mausoleum after his death.
Canova created the large plaster casts of his clay compositions to review them before they were transferred to stone - a method the Met says was "a distinctive feature of his sculptural practice". Canova managed to complete just seven of the models before passing away in October 1822, two weeks from his 65th birthday. He worked on the reliefs between December 1821 and April 1822, completing four scenes from Genesis and three from the Gospel of Luke.
Six of the reliefs are on loan from the Gallerie dell'Accademia in Venice, the former seat of the Accademia Reale di Belle Arti where Canova had sent the models to be carved to stone.
One comes from the Gipsoteca in Possagno, a museum for plaster models kept in Canova's Rome studio and transferred a few years after his death. New technical and art historical study has revealed that three of the relief models coming from the Gallerie dell'Accademia in Venice are Canova's originals, retaining the impression of the clay sculptures from which they were cast. The seventh, "The Creation of the World" from Possagno's Gipsoteca, is a replacement for the lost original. The MET called Canova's last pieces "profoundly moving masterworks," and said they drew inspiration from ancient sculpture and early Renaissance masters, with strikingly linear figures and a "deeply serious, deceptively simple style".