The Venetian artist Antonio Canova was the leading sculptor of the Neoclassical movement. Traveling to Rome in late 1779, his virtuosity and stylistic innovation soon won him papal commissions and acclaim. Along with his contemporary Jacques-Louis David, Canova set the standard for a new aesthetic based on the noble simplicity, grandeur, and idealized beauty of ancient art. With its elegant profile, smooth skin, and elaborate chignon, this “ideal head” exemplifies Canova’s Neoclassicism and his stunning technical virtuosity as a carver.
After the Battle of Waterloo, in 1815, the celebrated Canova was appointed by Pope Pius VII to negotiate the restitution of the famous paintings and antique statues that had been looted from Italy by Napoleon. At the Allied Conference in Paris that year, Canova was aided by several British diplomats. They included Charles Long, on whose advice the Prince Regent made a substantial contribution toward the cost of transporting the stolen treasures back to Rome. Canova gave the present sculpture to Long in gratitude for his help.