|George Washington by Antonio Canova*|
Canova had never met George Washington, so he was sent a bust and a full-length portrait; the portrait never arrived, so Washington's body was left to Canova's imagination. Canova's instructions were that the style should be Roman, the size somewhat larger than life, and the attitude to be left to the artist. According to North Carolina Digital History, Countess Albrizzi described the statue in "The Works of Antonio Canova:"
If to this great man a worthy cause was not wanting, or the means of acquiring the truest and most lasting glory, neither has he been less fortunate after death, when, by the genius of so sublime an artist, he appears again among his admiring countrymen in this dear and venerated form; not as a soldier, though not inferior to the greatest generals, but in his loftier and more benevolent character of the virtuous citizen and enlightened lawgiver.
Unfortunately, the original statue was destroyed in a fire in the State House on June 21, 1831. North Carolina tried to replace it, to no avail. Then, in 1908, it was discovered that the original plaster model that Canova used to create the Cararra marble statue was in excellent condition in the Museum and Gipsoteca Antonio Canova in Canova's hometown of Possagno, a village in the former Republic of Venice, not far from Asolo in the foothills of the Venetian Alps. Diplomatic inquiries were made to see if a copy could be made from the original cast. On March 5, 1908, the Mayor of Possagno replied:
As a special favor, and making an exception to the rule
that forbids the reproduction, the Administration of this
town has decided to permit the copy of the statue of
George Washington by Canova, of which a very fine
original model exists in this museum. Such concession has
been made with a view to paying a tribute of homage to
the great man who was the first President of the United
States, and to increase the admiration for the genius of
the celebrated artist who is a glory to our country.
The Italian government itself then got involved, and decided that the King of Italy would present the replica to the North Carolina Historical Commission as a gift. The replica of the original cast arrived in Raleigh in January, 1910, almost 100 years after the General Assembly decided to commission a statue of the Father of our Country. But it was not until 1970 that a marble replica by the Italian artist Romano Vio was completed, which is what stands in the rotunda of the capitol building in Raleigh, North Carolina today.
|Replica of Canova's George Washington statue by Romano Vio|
I called the Museum and Gipsoteca Antonio Canova to see if the original model is still there. I spoke to Giancarlo Cunial of the Fondazione Canova, and he assured me that not only was the original model there, they also had three smaller plaster molds that Canova had created, one of which was George Washington in the nude! Mr. Cunial informed me that although Canova had created the Washington statue while in Rome, the original models were now in Possagno, and since the marble statues were created from the original models, what they had in their museum was most precious of all.
|Daedulus and Icarus by Canova (1779)|
The Comité Français pour la Savegarde de Venise has been around for years; they are responsible for restoring the Salla da Ballo inside the Correr, and the fine restoration of the apartments of my favorite empress, the feisty Elisbeth "Sissi"of Austria, who lived here in Venice when it was under Austrian rule -- as well as many other projects. And the prestigious Venice International Foundation was founded way back in 1966, after Venice's great flood, and is responsible for the restoration and preservation of a long list of works. It is headed by the universally-respected Franca Coin, who was here on behalf of the organization. But I was not aware of the American Friends of Venice, which is new, founded in 2012, and is the New York base of the Venice International Foundation. According to their website, their mission is:
After learning about Canova's statue of George Washington, it is fitting that the American Friends of Venice focus their efforts on SUBLIME CANOVA. They've got some distinguished people on the Advisory Committee, including Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, Bobby Kennedy's oldest daughter and JFK's niece, which makes the project an interesting circle between the Veneto, France and the US.
|Psyché Revived by Cupid's Kiss by Canova|
Antonio Canova's work is in nearly every important museum on the planet, from the Louvre to the Hermitage, the Metropolitan Museum of Art to the Kunsthistorisches. Even though he was based in Rome, Canova's heart remained in the Veneto; he returned every year to his beloved village of Possagno. He died in Venice in 1822. He is buried in the Temple of Canova in Possagno, but his heart, literally, is here in Venice, in the monument based on the design Canova created for the great Venetian artist, Titian, inside the Frari.
|Canova Monument - Frari|
"Giorgio Washington al Popolo degli Stati Uniti 1796: Amici e concittadini…" which translates to "George Washington to the People of the United States 1796: Friends and fellow citizens…"
Apparently that inscription was not on the marble statue that arrived in Raleigh, North Carolina on Christmas Eve December 24, 1821. I wonder what George Washington would say to the People of the United States of America today.
Ciao from Venezia,
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog
*Top photo of George Washington by Canova from The Life of H. Ernest Chen blog.