Tersicore by Antonio Canova


Tersicore (1811) by Antonio CanovaFondazione Magnani-Rocca

The artist

Universally considered as the greatest sculptural exponent of Neoclassicism, so much as to be called “the new Phidias”, Antonio Canova was educated in Venice in the 70s of the XVIII century and then he moved to Rome, a city that, net of the travels he undertook in order to execute the many commissions he received, remained the gravitational center of his artistic activity.

The search for the “ideal beauty” in the perfection of the sculpted marble, based on the classic canons in tune with Winckelmann’s aesthetic code, translated into valuable masterpieces, among which we can mention Cupid & Psyche, the Three Graces and the Paolina Borghese, represented as Venus.

Tersicore (1811) by Antonio CanovaFondazione Magnani-Rocca

The scene

It is the last artwork purchased by Luigi Magnani, shortly before dying, in 1984. Belonged to the renowned collector Giovanni Battista Sommariva, this Canova’s statue, characterized by a graceful drapery and a noble posture, masterfully depicts the Terpsichore, muse of dance and choral singing, as can be understood by the lyre on the high podium.

Terpsichore, one of Canova’s most beloved subjects, represented in different versions, is one of the nine muses of Greek mythology. Usually dressed with clothes typical of aoidos, her name derives from the union of the Greek words τέρπω ("bring pleasure") e χoρός ("dance").

Tersicore (1811) by Antonio CanovaFondazione Magnani-Rocca

The artwork was firstly conceived as a portrait of Alexandrine de Bleschamps, second wife of Lucien Bonaparte (Napoleon’s younger brother).

However, in 1811 Sommariva purchased the original commission and made Canova changing the head modelled on the princess’ figure, substituting it with the current one, of idealized beauty. 

The sculptural technique

Canova usually executed his marble sculptures starting from a life-size model in chalk , transferring only afterwards the precise proportions of the figure on the more noble material through the famous “points” system, making use of a big compass.

The chalk wasn’t only representing an intermediate phase of the artistic process, but it consisted in a true transformative challenge for Canova, given its typical pale and lifeless deafness.

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