Canova and the Dance

Beauty in movement

Museum Gipsoteca Antonio Canova

Two dancing girls, four nymphs and a cupid (1799/1799) by Antonio CanovaMuseum Gipsoteca Antonio Canova

In the Neoclassical period, dance was conceived as an art that by its nature seeks beauty in movement, therefore it becomes the image par excellence of grace. And how could the great artist Antonio Canova not deal with this theme?

Dancing girl holding her veil, front view (1799/1799) by Antonio CanovaMuseum Gipsoteca Antonio Canova

Canova welcomes the challenge of transferring the specific qualities of dance, movement and temporal succession, to figurativity, through very different techniques, passing from tempera painting to sculpture, theoretically conceived as static art.

five dancers holding hands (1798/1799) by Antonio CanovaMuseum Gipsoteca Antonio Canova

The artist paints as an antidote to the pain of living. The beauty of the dancers drove away all melancholy and gave back to the master the enthusiasm he needed.

Five dancers with veil and crowns (1798/1799) by Antonio CanovaMuseum Gipsoteca Antonio Canova

Light and graceful ballerinas flutter against the dark background of these paintings, the close-fitting clothing lets the beautiful underlying shapes shine through in a suffused sweet light.

Two dancing girls holding a cupid and three sitting nymphs (1799/1799) by Antonio CanovaMuseum Gipsoteca Antonio Canova

The tempera must be considered one of the stages of the Canovian reflection on the characters of the graceful genre that began with monochrome drawings, passed to color, was then practiced in terracotta and plaster models, and finally landed in statuary.

The dance of the sons of Alcinous (1790) by Antonio CanovaMuseum Gipsoteca Antonio Canova

Danza dei figli di Alcinoo

Here is the proof of the transformation from painting to sculpture!

Two young bodies hovering in the air and all around an absolute void. Only the wide fluttering ribbons that frame the faces. Alcinoo as Canova: the mythical Greek king wants to be able to admire the skill of the two young children.

Not only from the inspiration of dance through female figures but also through delicate male bodies.

Canova wants to give value to dance, crowned in this bas-relief as the art par excellence, thanks to which it is possible to express one's own sensitivity and joy to reveal oneself to oneself and to others.

Dancing Girl with Her Finger on Her Chin (1809) by Antonio CanovaMuseum Gipsoteca Antonio Canova

"My friend continued in his work, and was distressed to see some clouds that could disturb the peace of Italy: which gave him reason to model the two dancers." Faced with the turbulent coming of Napoleon, Canova fuses together the action of sculpture and the action of dance. Thus, the vivacity that characterizes dancing corresponds to the creative brilliance and concrete "making" of sculpture.

Dancing Girl with Her Hands on Her Hips (1810) by Antonio CanovaMuseum Gipsoteca Antonio Canova

The Canova dancer seems to recall with her almost defiant attitude a possible companion of dance and in fact the initial intention of Canova would have been to add "a fano sonante of flute" (we can find this solution in the temperas of Possagno)

Dancing Girl with Her Hands on Her Hips (1810) by Antonio CanovaMuseum Gipsoteca Antonio Canova

The statue is characterized by a play of two intersecting ellipses: the ring of bent arms and the oval drawn by the garment that follows the rounding of the hips and descends over the ankles.

Dancing Girl with Cymbals (1812) by Antonio CanovaMuseum Gipsoteca Antonio Canova

"There are three dancing nymphs: they are all of a refined beauty; but still, how different they are! She jumps ahead, after having hit the sounding cymbals, the third; and I would dare to say that she dances to be admired." This is how Rosini describes the dancer with cymbals which, in fact, unlike the previous ones, totally relies on space - as in jumping, a living body relies on air.

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