Canova Washington is ready to take off – Treviso

200 years have passed since Antonio Canova finished the marble statue of George Washington and sent it to the client, the Parliament of North Carolina. It was Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States of America to have proposed the name of Canova for the assignment: intellectual end and man of thickness, he was convinced that the only artist in the world the height of the task was Italian and that the only material worthy of giving eternity to the figure of Washington was the white marble of Carrara.

During the two centuries that separate that moment from today everything has happened: the original marble was destroyed following a fire that broke out at the Capitol Hill in Raleigh in North Carolina where it was kept. Then, during the twentieth century, during the seventies, a Venetian artist, Romano Vio, was entrusted with the task of remaking the statue. To produce the copy, the sculptor used the preparatory plaster model that Canova had made, kept in the museum of Possagno, the birthplace of Canova.

Antonio Canova, George Washington 1818, plaster, Gispoteca and Antonio Canova Museum of Possagno, Treviso

To celebrate the anniversary, next May 22 will open at the Frick New York Collection "Canova's George Washington", exhibition that brings together for the first time the full-scale preparatory model in plaster (never before released from Italy), four preparatory sketches and related drawings and engravings. Will also be shown the oil painting by Canova painted in 1816 by Thomas Lawrence, also lent by Gipsoteca and Antonio Canova Museum of Possagno together with the model and the sketches.

"The exhibition was born from an idea of ​​ Franca Coin, president of the Canova Foundation during a trip to the United States where he presides over a foundation that deals with the restoration of works of art in Italy" states Mario Guderzo, director of Gipsoteca and Antonio Canova Museum of Possagno
"La Coin had fallen in love with the idea of ​​being able to expose Washington's plaster beyond the ocean. In the same period he met Xavier Salomon, director of the Frick Collection of New York, an art historian of Italian-English origins who had come to Italy to present an exhibition on the Veronese. Salomon also became passionate about the project and the initiative took off. Also at that time, about two years ago, the Museum of Possagno had loaned some plaster casts to the Palladio Museum in Vicenza on the occasion of an exhibition dedicated to Thomas Jefferson, the president who had indicated Antonio Canova as the only artist able to perform a statue of Washington ".

By now the works seem to be well underway: the catalog has been closed, the modalities of transport of the plaster of Washington have been defined and the dates of the exhibition "Canova's George Washington" are now fixed: from 23 May to 23 September at the Frick Collection in New York .

How will gypsum be transported from Possagno to New York?

"A statue of the transport company was given to a Venetian company. The work will travel by plane. Some cameras will be placed inside the packing case to monitor the condition of the statue during the journey. The plaster will be placed in three boxes, one inside the other, equipped with springs to cushion any blows that could suffer. But before being placed inside the transport container, the sculpture will be disassembled. It must be remembered that the work had suffered considerable damage during the First World War, they had detached an arm and the head that were later fixed with some internal pins. On the occasion of transportation to the United States, the head and the arm will be detached again. "


The plaster of the statue of George Washington at the Antonio Canova Museum in Possagno during the war.

How is the statue of Washington placed in the vast production of Antonio Canova?

"Until today the work has not been studied as much as other works such as the mythological statues of Antonio Canova, the Pauline or the orders that the sculptor made for Napoleon. La Gipsoteca by Possagno preserves the preparatory plaster of the statue that was built exactly 200 years ago, in April 1818 . The anniversary provides the opportunity to return to the famous commission that Antonio Canova obtained from the United States. It must be remembered that the marble, once arrived beyond Oceano, was destroyed during the collapse of the building that housed it. Later, the reconstruction of the statue was entrusted to a Venetian artist. We returned to the Possagno model and a copy was made using Pietrasanta marble in the Cacciatori laboratory. The statue was then placed in Raleigh where it is today. The story highlights two very important aspects: one concerns the processing system used by Canova that allowed him to make several copies from a plaster model and the other underlines the importance of the collection of gessi Gipsoteca by Possagno for the conservation of Canova's works ".

Who was Canova in his time?

"Canova was an outstanding diplomat. He was lucky enough to attend influential people. He was appointed president of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Artistic Heritage, a role that allowed him to decide which were the works that could be sold and exported and which had to be kept in Italy. Canova himself signed the export of several works of art. He related to Napoleon to erect his monument. And he wrote the first legislative decree that underlies the criterion of inspiration for the current code of cultural heritage. He was a small little man and was a contemporary artist. When Canova died in 1822, the plaster of George Washington's statue was in Rome in his atelier. His collaborator Cincinnato Baruzzi took care of transferring all the plasterwork and the works to Possagno, which today is the world center of the works of Antonio Canova ".

What was the most artistic style in the United States at the beginning of the nineteenth century?

"There was great attention to the Roman Empire. It was always Jefferson who suggested using the model of the Rotonda of Palladio for the construction of the White House building. And in ancient times he looked when he commissioned the statue from Canova. Jefferson suggested representing Washington as a Roman leader. The Italian sculptor took as a reference model probably an ancient sculpture, found in Herculaneum and now preserved at the National Archaeological Museum of Naples . It is a work that portrays the emperor Claudius Augustus seated: in the same way is represented Washington, dressed in the armor and the shoes. "

What procedure did Antonio Canova follow to realize the statue?

"We know that Canova used to have his assistants read some significant texts for the work he was doing. First he began by drawing the model of the statue: the drawings are kept at the Museo Civico di Bassano . Then he executed the clay models: there are five in all, one is kept at the Braschi Museum in Rome and the other four at Possagno. We know that Canova deepened the historical reality and the context in which the commission received was inserted. Jefferson, among other things, sent him Washington's funeral mask to use it as a model. There was an intense exchange of letters between Jefferson and Canova before starting work. "

The exhibition will also have an extension in Italy. From November 10, the exhibition will be open at the Museum of Possagno where it will remain open to the public until April 22, 2019.

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