Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Venus and Cupid

Antonio Canova (Italian, Possagno 1757–1822 Venice)
Overall: 10 1/4 x 19 11/16 x 7 1/16 in. (26 x 50 x 17.9 cm.)
Credit Line:
Wrightsman Fund, 1993
Accession Number:
Not on view
This group is more closely related to Canova's painting than to his sculpture. Escaping from the "fearful effects of the Revolution" that were then afflicting Rome (Canova 1994, p. 310), he spent much of the years 1797–98 with his family in Possagno, there taking time out to paint several of the canvases that were a delightful sideline of his. They include a half-length squarish picture of Venus and Cupid (fig. 34; Pavanello 1976, p. 138, no. D23, ill.). Although her legs are cut off, Venus is posed on a couch, embracing her son who returns her hug, and gazes directly at the witness of this tender momeny, more or less as here. Softly brushed, the paintings have the look of Pompeian frescoes with accents from his beloved Titian. The present model, which I presume precedes the painting, is rather larger and perhaps a bit more ponderously studied than usual for Canova. Admittedly his clay models are generally handled more loosely, but they do offer abundant precedents for the choppy play of the modeling tool over flesh and cloth, the sluggish rhythms of Venus's long limbs, and her huge feet. These traits occur strikingly in the studies leading up to Cupid and Pysche (cat. no. 10) and in models for the Penitent Magdalen (cat. no. 8 and fig. 25) and one for Charity. This last has the same preliminary relationship to a painting as the present work, only babies have been added to the canvas, which is signed and dated "A. Canova Sc. 1799" (Pavanello 1976, pp. 104, 138, nos. 111, D27, ill.).

In all fairness, it must be said that Hugh Honour and Giuseppe Pavanello are unconvinced by the Canova attribution (letter from Honour to James Draper, October 6, 1993). We resubmit the case in the interest of opening up the question––adding only that we know as yet no imitator of his modeling style capable of incorporating so instinctively such personal Canova tics as the curved slumped back, looping limbs, and long feet.

The slightly reddish buff clay, with firing cracks visible especially underneath, hsa been extensively touched up with plaster additions painted to match the terracotta in the areas of the front left corner of the bed, the mattress, the foot of the bed with paint extending over Venus's proper left foot, and Cupid's wings. Venus's hair is overpainted, possibly covering damages there.

[James David Draper 2003]
Private Collection, France ; [ Galerie Patrice Bellanger , Paris, until 1993; sold to MMA ]
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