Just few days ago Sotheby’s has announced they will offer a stunning masterpiece by celebrated Italian sculptor Antonio Canova at its 4 July sale in London, with over £ 1million estime
Bust of Peace (1814), not seen in public for more than 200 years, is the first handful of autograph Canova works to ever come to market.
The monumental work was first shown at the 1817 Royal Academy summer exhibition. It was carved for Canova’s first British patron and close friend, John Campbell, Lord Cawdor, a great lover of Italy and connoisseur of the arts. The sculpture belongs to Canova’s illustrious series of Ideal Heads (Teste Ideale). Perhaps among the artist’s most intimate works, the Ideal Heads convey Canova’s ideal of beauty and were produced as gifts for his loyal friends and patrons.
Interesting the story about this piece, as Canova’s Bust of Peace was given, in part, to thank Lord Cawdor for his help in repatriating art from Italy, looted by French armies during the Napoleonic Wars. So, Canova’s Bust of Peace is very indicative of its time. Presented by the artist to his patron and friend within months of Napoleon’s downfall, it represents, by virtue of its subject, the peace brought about by the Great Powers.
Honoured by Lord Byron, Canova was considered the preeminent sculptor of his time, recognised not only for his carving skills but also as a diplomat and dignitary for the Papal court. That’s the only raison why Canova was one of the few artists able to transcend political restrictions imposed by revolutionary awakenings and the Napoleonic wars.
Despite only having visited England on one occasion, he had enchanted the nation with his sculpture of The Three Graces, completed and delivered to Woburn, the family seat of the Duke of Bedford, and now The Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
After John Campbell’s death in 1821 the rare Bust of Peace was passed down through generations of the Cawdor family, but over time, the sculpture was eventually forgotten.
Now, following extensive research by the present owner, who acquired the sculpture as an unattributed work, it has been identified as the Bust of Peace. The masterful work is a significant rediscovery, of seminal importance within Canova’s oeuvre, and has great historical resonance.
‘This is one of the most exciting rediscoveries I have encountered, the culmination of years spent piecing together fragments of information that together now tell the complete story of what is a truly exceptional, long-lost work,’ said Christopher Mason, director at Sotheby’s European Sculpture & Works of Art department.
‘Each marble is executed with a befittingly high degree of care and attention. The sculptor’s ability to breathe life into cold marble is unrivalled in neoclassical sculpture.’
Mason described the sculpture as a technical tour de force, displaying Canova’s absolute mastery in marble, particularly with the beautiful carving of the hair and the purity of the expression.
‘Autograph works by Canova are fantastically rare on the market,’ Mason explained. ‘To be offering this bust, newly rediscovered and with such a special story behind it, is something remarkable indeed.’
THE ARTIST: ANTONIO CANOVA (1757-1822)
Born in November 1757 in Possagno into a troubled Europe, Canova was one of the few artists to transcend the political restrictions imposed by revolutionary awakenings and the Napoleonic wars. He worked for essentially every major party within Europe, among them the Pope, Napoleon, the Habsburgs, the Prince Regent of Great Britain, and the Venetian Republic – a testament to his remarkable talent, diplomacy and artistic autonomy. Canova’s death in October 1822 was deeply lamented in Italy and in Europe at large.
THE FUTHER DISCOVERY
In the course of the research undertaken to piece together the history of this extraordinary work, the original plaster cast was recently discovered in the Museo civico, Bassano del Grappa with pointing markers and incisions used for the executing of the marble version.