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HISTORICAL AND CRITICAL
Sculpture had, from a long time, been so much neglected in Italy, that it seemed, in a manner, to no longer have any of that grandeur, of which however so many examples were seen in the numerous Grecian works that adorn the Italian Museums. Canova, the son of a stone cutter, came into the world with such a decided feeling for sculpture, that he was soon remarked, and that the individual with whom he worked as a mere journeyman, guessed his talent and procured him the means of unfolding it.
Antonio Canova was born at Possagno, near Treviso, November 1, 1757. He was yet a child, when he one day, drew the attention of a Patrician of Venice, named Falieri, by placing on his table a lion modelled in butter. This nobleman put Canova in the hands of a sculptor named Torretti where he soon made great progress. His first attempts are still preserved at Venice they are two baskets of fruit executed in marble. After Torretti's death, Canova continued his studies some time under the direction of Ferrari, his former master's nephew; but he left him to study in the Academy of Fine Arts at Venice, where he soon won several prizes. He was twenty two years old when he did his group of Dædalus and Icarus: this work gave so much satisfaction, that the Senate of Venice sent him to Rome; with a pension of 300 ducats.
It was in 1779 that Canova arrived in the city of the Fine Arts: but at that period Sculpture had astonishingly lost the characteristic of the Antique. A few of the learned were then struggling in favour of a change, become absolutely necessary, and the counsels and works of these skilful men, had the happiest influence upon the works of Canova. It was by studying the Theory of Art as conceived by Raphael Mengs, Sir W. Hamilton, and particularly, by the celebrated Winkelman: it was by putting into practice their lessons, that Canova found the means of opening to himself a road, then new, and which, during a long life, led him on from success to success. In the present day, it is sufficient, as an eulogium, to quote such works as the Monuments of Alfieri, and of Nelson; the groups of Cupid and Psyche, of Venus and Adonis, the three Female Dancers, the Graces, Paris, Mars and Venus, and particularly the Repentant Magdalen, one of the richest ornaments of the Sommariva Collection, and perhaps its author's masterpiece.
These important works had rendered Canova's name famous throughout Europe. During the troubles of Italy, in 1798 and 1799, he accompanied Prince Rezzonico, to Austria and Prussia; and on his return to Rome, Pope Pius VII named him Inspector General of the Fine Arts in all the Roman States, with a pension of 400 scudi. Invited to Paris by the First Consul, Bonaparte, Canova quitted Rome and Italy, with the Sovereign Pontiff's permission: he was greeted in France with all the marks of esteem and admiration due to so great a talent. The class of Fine Arts of the Institute associated him as a Foreign Member. It was during his residence in Paris that he executed the statue of the First Consul, which has also been called Mars Pacificator. It will be remembered that this statue was not exhibited, as it did not please Napoleon, who, on seing it, said: Canova croit donc que je me bats à coups de poings? Canova believes then that I fight with my fists? It now belongs to the Duke of Wellington.