“A l’atelier de Canova. Tout y est beau […]”: in the diary of his journey through central and southern Italy in 1819-1820, the marquise Tancredi Falletti di Barolo describes his frequent visits to the Roman studio of Antonio Canova, who carved a marble herma depicting the poet Sappho for him.
On 22 March 1820, the noble collector from Turin wrote in his diary that he had concluded the purchase of the sculpture and paid 100 Louis d’or, i.e. 440 scudi romani, as confirmed by the receipt signed by Canova the same day.
To date, there has been no verification of any existing replicas of the herma, whose creation was captured in a cast preserved in the Gipsoteca di Possagno, but it certainly would have reached Turin while memories in the city were still fresh of another work by Canova, the beautiful and “scandalous” Pauline Bonaparte as Venus Victrix, which stood in Palazzo Chiablese, the headquarters of Camillo Borghese, Governor General of Piedmont, until 1814. Sappho was exhibited to great acclaim at the Painting and Sculpture Exhibition organised in June 1820 at the Palazzo dell’Università in Turin. The solution of the hair parted in the front, with the banded locks falling to the temples, is inspired by Canova’s Helen, his ideal prototype for Greek heads.
On 19 May 1838 Tancredi Falletti from Barolo bound the Saffo to the City of Turin, declaring in his will that after the death of his wife Giulia, it was to be placed “in a visible site in the Civic Palace”. After the demise of the marchioness in 1864, the work became part of the Civic Museum collection in Turin.