Antonio Canova

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Antonio Canova (1 November 1757 – 13 October 1822) was a Venetian 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.

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Early life in Possagno and Venice

Antonio Canova was born in Possagno, a village of the Republic of Venice situated amid the recesses of the hills of Asolo, where these form the last undulations of the Venetian Alps, as they subside into the plains of Treviso. At three years of age Canova was deprived of both parents, his father dying and his mother remarrying. Their loss, however, was compensated by the tender solicitude and care of his paternal grandfather and grandmother, the latter of whom lived to experience in her turn the kindest personal attention from her grandson, who, when he had the means, gave her an asylum in his house at Rome.

His father and grandfather followed the occupation of stone-cutters or minor statuaries; and it is said that their family had for several ages supplied Possagno with members of that calling. As soon as Canova's hand could hold a pencil, he was initiated into the principles of drawing by his grandfather Pasino. The latter possessed some knowledge both of drawing and of architecture, designed well, and showed considerable taste in the execution of ornamental works. He was greatly attached to his art; and upon his young charge he looked as one who was to perpetuate, not only the family name, but also the family profession.

The early years of Canova were passed in study. The bias of his mind was to sculpture, and the facilities afforded for the gratification of this predilection in the workshop of his grandfather were eagerly improved. In his ninth year he executed two small shrines of Carrara marble, which are still extant. Soon after this period he appears to have been constantly employed under his grandfather. Amongst those who patronized the old man was the patrician family Falier of Venice, and by this means young Canova was first introduced to the senator of that name, who afterwards became his most zealous patron.

Between the younger son, Giuseppe Falier, and the artist a friendship commenced which terminated only with life. The senator Falier was induced to receive him under his immediate protection. It has been related by an Italian writer and since repeated by several biographers, that Canova was indebted to a trivial circumstance - the moulding of a lion in butter - for the warm interest which Falier took in his welfare. The anecdote may or may not be true. By his patron Canova was placed under Bernardi, or, as he is generally called by filiation, Giuseppe Torretto, a sculptor of considerable eminence, who had taken up a temporary residence at Pagnano, one of Asolo's boroughs in the vicinity of the senator's mansion.

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