AFTER ANTONIO CANOVA (ITALIAN, 1757-1822)
AFTER ANTONIO CANOVA (ITALIAN, 1757-1822)
AFTER ANTONIO CANOVA (ITALIAN, 1757-1822)
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AFTER ANTONIO CANOVA (ITALIAN, 1757-1822)

The Three Graces

Details
AFTER ANTONIO CANOVA (ITALIAN, 1757-1822)
The Three Graces
unsigned, on a white marble and verde antico pedestal
marble
The statue: 52 ¼ in. (132.5 cm.) high; 31 in. (79 cm.) wide; 17 ¼ in. (44 cm.) deep
The pedestal: 31 in. (79 cm.) high; 34 ¼ in. (87 cm.) wide; 20 ¼ in. (51.5 cm.) deep
(2)circa 1880-1900

Brought to you by

Giles Forster
Giles Forster

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Lot Essay

This exquisite marble is a very finely preserved copy of Antonio Canova's magnum opus The Three Graces, which depicts the nymphs Aglaia, Euphrosyne and Thalia, the three daughters of Zeus and the sea nymph Euronyme, who were also the handmaidens of Venus and companions of Apollo. Respectively, they represented elegance, mirth and youth, and beauty or the three phases of love: Beauty, arousing Desire, leading to Fulfilment.

As in all the antique interpretations of Aglaia, Euphrosyne and Thalia, the three sisters are depicted with two figures, Aglaia and Euphrosyne, facing forwards while the central figure, Thalia, faces away. While this would have served, in part, to be mildly erotic, it also serves as a clever and dynamic composition. In this stance they would have traditionally been seen as part of a larger decorative scheme in a villa or sculpture gallery with the aim of promoting joy, fortitude and love as in line with the ideals of the time. However, in 1812, the prolific neo-classical sculptor Antonio Canova modified the composition and created, as Stendhal commented un nuovo tipo de bellezza (Praz, op. cit., no. 270). Canova distanced his composition from the antique prototypes by twisting the central figure, so that she would face the onlooker, and by drawing the sisters closer together, in a warmer and more seductive embrace.

Antonio Canova's first group of The Three Graces was commissioned by Empress Josephine in 1812. The marble was completed after her death in 1816 and taken to Monaco by her son, Eugène de Beauharnais. On the latter's death in 1824, the group became the property of the Duke of Leuchtenburg and was transported to St. Petersburg, where it is now kept in the Hermitage.

In 1815, John Russell, the 6th Duke of Bedford, commissioned a second version of The Three Graces from Canova. The marble was completed in 1817 and installed in Woburn Abbey two years later. It was acquired in 1994 jointly by the V & A, London, and the National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh. This second version of the group is slightly smaller and varies in some details, primarily the rectangular pedestal behind the maidens, which is transformed into a round column. Thus, the present lot, is after Canova's second version.

Following Canova's death in 1822 his brother and sole heir Giovanni Battista (1775-1858) arranged for the contents of the Rome studio to be moved to Possagno: commissioning Francesco Lazzari (1791-1871) to build a museum, the Casa del Canova, to preserve the plasters, marbles and paintings.

The present group, which is a slightly further reduced in dimension, was most likely modelled at some time in the second half of the 19th century after a plaster copy taken of the Duke of Bedford's group, which probably also served as the model for the other known copy in the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen.

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