From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Antonio Canova (November 1, 1757 - October 13, 1822) was an Italian sculptor who became famous for his marble sculptures that delicately rendered nude flesh. The epitome of the neoclassical style, his work marked a return to classical refinement after the theatrical excesses of Baroque sculpture.
Among Canova's heroic compositions, his Perseus with the Head of Medusa appeared soon after his return from Germany. The moment of representation is when the hero, flushed with conquest, displays the head of the "snaky Gorgon", whilst the right hand grasps a sword of singular device. By a public decree, this fine work was placed in one of the stanze of the Vatican hitherto reserved for the most precious works of antiquity.
In 1802, at the personal request of Napoleon, Canova returned to Paris to model a bust of the first consul. The artist was entertained with munificence, and various honors were conferred upon him. The statue, which is colossal and entitled Napoleon as Mars the Peacemaker, was not finished till six years after. On the fall of the great emperor, Louis XVIII presented this statue to the British government, by whom it was afterwards given to the Duke of Wellington.
Palamedes, Creugas and Damoxenus, the Combat of Theseus and the Centaur, and Hercules and Lichas may close the class of heroic compositions, although the catalogue might be swelled by the enumeration of various others, such as Hector and Ajax, and the statues of George Washington (commissioned by the State of North Carolina to be displayed in its Capitol Building), King Ferdinand of Naples, and others.
Under the head of compositions of grace and elegance, the statue of Hebe takes the first place in point of date. Four times has the artist embodied in stone the goddess of youth, and each time with some variation. The last one is in the Museum of Forlì, in Italy. The only material improvement, however, is the substitution of a support more suitable to the simplicity of the art. Each of the statues is, in all its details, in expression, attitude and delicacy of finish, strikingly elegant.
The Dancing Nymphs maintain a character similar to that of the Hebe. The Three Graces and the Venus are more elevated. The Awakened Nymph is another work of uncommon beauty. The mother of Napoleon, his consort Maria Louise (as Concord), to model whom the author made a further journey to Paris in 1810, the princess Esterhazy and the muse Polymnia (Elisa Bonaparte) take their place in this class, as do the ideal heads, comprising Corinna, Sappho, Laura, Beatrice and Helen of Troy.
Of the cenotaphs and funeral monuments the most splendid is the monument to the archduchess Archduchess Maria Christina, Duchess of Teschen, consisting of nine figures.
Besides the two for the Roman Pontiffs already mentioned, there is one for Alfieri, another for Emo, a Venetian admiral, and a small model of a cenotaph for Horatio Nelson, besides a great variety of monumental relieves.