Antonio Canova and the Dead
Updated: Sep 13, 2022
You could say the sculptures of Antonio Canova are too classical, too perfect to still have meaning in the 21st century. I agree and strongly disagree. He did sculptures of men representing might and strength and of women of immense physical beauty. But to me, his sculptures come to life when he grapples with the suffering and pain of death and loss.
His monuments to the departed are a lyrical ode to the memory of the dead and to those who are left behind to mourn. Canova uses the form of the pyramid with an open space into the unknown with mourners lining on both sides of the pyramid. You see them from behind but as you move around and catch a more intimate view of the figures, you are hit by the anguish of each of the figures.
Their suffering is palpable, even the fabric of their garments seems to convey disquietude. The sheer strength to go on, the limbo they find themselves in, the complete understanding of something that cannot be any more and the understanding of their own mortality make these works full of empathy for the human condition.
The mourning lion obviously represents Venice, for these figures are mourned by country as well as by heaven as represented by the prostrate figure of an angel.
Even when not using the pyramid, Canova’s lyrical ode to the dead and empathy for the living continues.
These images you see in this post are from Museo Gypsotheca Antonio Canova in Possagno (Italy) which I visited in July 2021. These are the gesso full size models of the finished marble works which are found in museums around the world.