TABLE OF CONTENTS
Antonio Canova Letter:
Antonio Canova, Italian Neoclassical sculptor, was born in Possagno in the province of Treviso in 1757. Having lost both of his parents by the age of five, Canova was raised by his paternal grandfather, Pasino Canova (1711-?1794), a skilled stone-cutter and sculptor who provided Antonio with his first instruction in the principles of drawing, modeling clay, and carving marble. As a young man, Canova was apprenticed for two years to the Venetian sculptor Giuseppe Bernardi (1694-1773). In 1774 he established his own studio in Venice and in 1778 he achieved his first public success with the marble group of Daedalus and Icarus (Museo Correr, Venice).
In 1781 Canova settled permanently in Rome, where he immersed himself in the study of Roman antiquity and Neoclassical theory. It was in that year he completed the model of his first large scale work, Theseus Vanquishing the Minotaur (Victoria and Albert Museum, London), which won the praise of Gavin Hamilton (1723-1798) and other Neoclassicists living in Rome. This work was followed by two important public commissions: a sepulchral monument in honour of Clement XIV at the church of the Santi Apostoli in Rome and the tomb of Clement XIII at St. Peter's. In 1802 Canova travelled to Paris to model a colossal bust portrait of Napoleon. This was the first of several works produced by Canova for the French emperor and his family. Napoleon's first wife, the Empress Josephine, acquired several sculptures from Canova, including a statue of Cupid and Psyche in 1808 and the Terpsichore and The Dancer in 1812. All three of these works are currently in the collection of the Hermitage Museum, Leningrad.
In 1815 Canova returned to Paris as a representative of the Vatican to negotiate the return of art treasures stolen from the Papal States by Napoleon. He continued to receive numerous private commissions during this period. Among these were a sculpture of the Three Graces (Victoria and Albert Museum, London, and National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh) for John Russell, 6th Duke of Bedford, in 1814 and a second version of The Dancer for Sir Simon Houghton Clarke (1764-1832) in 1818. The latter was purchased by the National Gallery of Canada in 1968. Having achieved acclaim as the greatest sculptor since Michaelangelo, Canova died in Venice in 1822 and was buried in the Tempio Canoviano, a Neoclassical church designed by Canova for his native town of Possagno.
The collection consists of one three-page autograph letter from Antonio Canova to Ennio Quirino Visconti (1751-1818), dated February 22, 1813. Visconti was an Italian antiquarian and archaeologist, papal Prefect of Antiquities (Prefetto delle Antichità), and the leading expert of his day in the field of ancient Roman sculpture. As well as seeking Visconti's opinion of the two works by Canova that were exhibited at the Paris Salon of 1812, the letter discusses titles for these works. Canova suggests that the sculpture of the dancer modelled for the Empress Josephine might be given the title of Erato.
Source of title: Title based on contents of series.
Physical condition: The letter is in good condition and is stored unfolded in a mylar enclosure.
Immediate source of acquisition: Purchased by the National Gallery of Canada from F.A. Bernett Books, Larchmont, New York, in April 1968.
Language: Text is an Italian.
Terms governing use and reproduction: For permission to reproduce or publish the Antonio Canova letter, a written request must be made to the National Gallery of Canada Library and Archives.
Associated materials: The collection of the National Gallery of Canada includes Canova?'s second version of The Dancer, a work delivered to Sir Simon Houghton Clarke in 1822. The sculpture is a replica, with minor variations, of a statue that Canova carved for the Empress Josephine. The first version of The Dancer is now in the collection of the Hermitage Museum, Leningrad.
Accruals: No further accruals are expected.
Related groups of records: Letters between Antonio Canova and Sir Simon Houghton Clarke concerning The Dancer are housed in the collection of the Biblioteca Civica, Bassano del Grappa, Italy.
General note: For a description of the National Gallery of Canada's version of The Dancer, see Hugh Honour, "Canova's Statue of a Dancer," The National Gallery of Canada Bulletin, vol. 6, no. 1 (1968): 4-13.
Collection processed and finding aid prepared by Philip Dombowsky in 2015.
[Title of item], National Gallery of Canada Library and Archives.