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The hair centrally parted and held by a bandeau ----- 21in. (53.3cm.) high, including socle, inscribed on the front ' ' and on the reverse 'SAPPHO/A. CANOVA/1817.'
W.J. Bethell (born William John Codrington)
Sir Geoffrey Codrington, by descent, Roche Court, Winterslow, Wiltshire; Humberts King and Chasemore, October 23-25, 1978, lot 1264
Catalogo cronologico delle scultura di Antonio Canova pubblicato dietro richtesta di S.A.R. il Principe di Baviera, Rome, 1819, p. 21 L. Cicognara, Biografia di Antonio Canova, Venice, 1823, p. 68
M. Missirini, Della vita di Antonio Canova, Prato, 1824, p. 511
I. Albrizzi, Opera di scultura e di plastica di Antonio Canova, Vol. IV, Pisa, 1824, tav. CXII
A. D'Este, Memorie di Antonio Canova, Florence, 1864, p. 343

E. Sassi, Le Gipsoteca di Possagno, Venice, 1957, no. 272
M. Praz, L'opera completa del Canova, Milan, 1976, pp. 131-132
F. Licht, Canova, New York, 1983, pp. 127-130
Correr Museum, Antonio Canova (exhibition catalogue), Venice, 1992, pp. 330-331, no. 149

Lot Essay

The bust of Sappho was commissioned from Canova in 1817 (as indicated by the inscription on the reverse) by William John Bethell, an Englishman visiting Italy that year. A letter to the sculptor on April 2, 1819,from Bethell, now returned to England, authorized him to draw on Bethell's bankers in Rome for "100 Luigi", which was the artist's usual price for such a bust. In another exchange (undated), Bethel writes that he awaits "nostra Sapho" and has prepared a room for the work. As Canova rarely signed his marbles, his purchasors, particularly the English, had his name inscribed on them. The type of "signature", the spelling of Sappho, and the date of commission (rather than payment) would indicate that Bethell had these added in England.

This bust is recorded as early as 1819 in the catalogue of Canova's works prepared for the Prince of Bavaria, "Anno 1819 . . . Busto di Saffo, posseduto da Lord. Bethell" (p. 21). It is similarly described by the other contemporary writers on Canova's life and works: Leopoldo Cicognara and Melchior Missirini. An engraving of the profile of the head was published by another contemporary, Isabella Teotochi Albrizzi in 1824. Although the bust has been recorded by modern scholars as a lost work, and is frequently referred to as a herm, all of the period descriptions as well as the engraving confirm that "Lord" Bethell's Sappho was a bust. Moreover, a plaster cast which remained in Canova's studio at his death (Gipsoteca di Possagno) and confirms the type of Bethell's Sappho.

Another confusion has arisen concerning the patron W.J. Bethell. Born in 1768 as William John Codrington, he assumed the name of his paternal grandmother, Bethell, by royal license in 1798. Although he is referred to as "Lord" Bethell by Cicognara, he was not titled. The provenance of the present marble was by descent through the Codrington family.

A subsequent marble (1820) Herm of Sappho was acquired by the Marchese Tancredi Falletti di Barolo (now Turin, Civica Galleria d'Arte Moderna, cf. Canova (exhibition catalogue), no. 149). According to Quatremere de Quincy, a second example of the herm type was executed for Count Rasponi of Ravenna (now missing). This may also account for the confusion in describing the present bust as a Herm of Sappho in the literature on this commission by 20th century art historians.

The present bust is one of the series of testi ideali which Canova worked on from 1811 (cf. Canova (exhibition catalogue), no. 142-148). As Missirini, Canova's official biographer wrote that like 'the divine Raphael, and all other great artists, Canova sought beauty, especially in the features of the face; and when he found some graceful aspect, he would diligently take note of it, and then, transforming it in his imagination, would model wome heads and busts, which you would truly say belong to an intellectual type; thus he knew how to embellish the features of the face, and give them spirituality and divinity... He carved many busts, which were ideal or imitated natural likeness, either for his own pleasure, or to satisfy the demands of those whom he could no longer provide with large scale works, or to give as gifts to friends' (1825, pp.205-6).

These ideal works were not only a major source of income for the artist, but they were also personifications of his philosopy of beauty and art. The present work, in its simplicity of form, its silent, enigmatic expression and the subtlety of technique with the variations of texture and sharpness of detail is an important re-discovery in the ouevre of Canova.

To be immediately followed by
the Sale of
Lexington, Kentucky

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