Antonio Canova’s magnificent art has rightly earned him praise as “the last of the ancients and the first of the moderns”.
This exhibition focuses on Canova’s constant, intense and fruitful relationship with classical antiquity, which made him known as “the new Phidias” among his contemporaries.Throughout the course of his artistic activity, Canova followed Winckelmann’s call “to imitate but not to copy the ancients” in order to “become inimitable”.
The exhibition is organised on two floors and displays a full range of works by Canova, including drawings, sketches, paintings, plaster casts and marble sculptures.
It showcases some of Canova’s greatest masterpieces, such as the famous group of The Graces on loan from the Hermitage State Museum in St. Petersburg. The National Archaeological Museum of Naples was in a uniquely privileged position to assemble this complex and fascinating dialogue between Canova’s works and the great works of antiquity, with stunning pieces that can delight the modern spectator as thoroughly as they did Canova’s contemporaries.
The two installations dedicated to Antonio Canova in the entrance hall of the Museum are hosted in theatre-like round structures with a six-metre diameter.
The visual journey takes the visitor through virtual imagery and scientific study, going from a single detail to a bird’s eye view, from the butterfly of Cupid and Psyche, to Hercules hurling Lichas, the great myths sculpted in marble and the polychrome paintings on a dark background, dedicated to dance. Adriano Giannini’s voice and the original soundtrack by the cello-player Giovanni Sollima contribute to a show which mixes deep emotion to accurate knowledge.
Canova in Naples
Canova comes to Naples in 1780 to admire the beauties of the city and the antiquities of Herculaneum and Paestum. In his second “Quaderno di Viaggio” he writes about Naples: “everywhere is like Heaven”. He also reports of his visits to the Sansevero Chapel – where he appreciates the “Dead Christ” by Giuseppe Sammartino -, to the Gallery of Capodimonte and to the Museum of Portici, where all the antiquities from the Vesuvian area had been gathered. Among the bronzes from the Villa of Papyri of Herculaneum he praises the “Seated Mercury” for “its wonderful beauty”. Canova obtains the permission to draw the nude at the Academy (of Fine Arts), placed at the time in the area of San Carlo alle Mortelle. Today, in the Academy’s Gipsoteca, it is possible to admire some of his plaster models. The master comes back to Naples in 1787 and carves for Francesco Maria Berio the marble group Venus and Adonis, to be placed in a little temple in the garden of the marquis’ palace, along via Toledo. The work, inscribed in the genre “delicate and gentle”, is today in Geneve. For the Neapolitan Onorato Caetani he sculpts the group Hercules and Lichas, classified in the genre “strong” or “fierce”, taking inspiration from the ideal model of the Farnese Hercules and from the composition of Hector and Troilus –both on display at the MANN. The sculpture, later bought by the Roman Giovanni Torlonia, will never arrive in Naples. The Herm of a Vestal, commissioned by the count Paolo Marulli d’Ascoli, will also leave Naples for Switzerland first and for the Getty Museum of Los Angeles later. After the short life of the Parthenopean Republic, the Bourbon king Ferdinand IV asks Canova to sculpt for him a portrait-statue. In 1821, as suggested by the master himself, it will be placed in the niche of the monumental staircase of the Royal Bourbon Museum, today Museo Archeologico Nazionale. During the French decade Canova carves the marble busts, today lost, of Caroline and Joachim Murat, known through their plaster models. In the same period, the king Joseph Bonaparte and his successor Joachim Murat commission an Equestrian Monument to Napoleon, but, with the French domination coming to an end, the work will never be completed. When the Bourbon king of Naples Ferdinand I regains the throne as king of the two Sicilies, he asks Canova to complete the piece with the statue of his father, Charles III. The monument can be admired today in Piazza Plebiscito.
Tours for schools
available on request reservation required Italian, English, French, Spanish up to 30 students
Tours for groups
available on Sunday reservation required Italian, English up to 30 participants
Info and reservation
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Saturday from 9.00 am to 2.00 pm
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