In 1818 Lord Byron declared the sculptor Canova to be the equal of any of Italy’s greatest artists from the past. His opinion was generally accepted and Canova enjoyed exceptional success and renown. He was based in Rome, where he produced many sculptures for the Bonaparte family. Following Napoleon’s defeat in 1815 Canova visited England and George IV, then the Prince Regent, promptly commissioned him to carve this statue.
In classical mythology, Mars and Venus indulged in a notorious affair. Ever since, the pair have been depicted as the perfect romantic couple. The two figures are carved from a single block of marble. Their anatomy is idealised, according to the standards of classical sculpture. What Canova adds, in the way he carves the marble, is his own alluring sensitivity to the softness of human flesh.