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Presentation of the Exhibition


Vatican City, 20 October 2023 – On Tuesday 24 October, the Vatican Museums will present Antonio Canova in the Vatican Museums, an extensive exhibition project dedicated to celebrating the figure and work of the celebrated Italian sculptor, who also played an important institutional role in the papal collections: superintendent, director and a key figure in the recovery of works seized during the Napoleonic campaigns, his multifaceted personality must necessarily be presented in several directions.

For these reasons, the exhibition – which takes place at the end of the Canovian celebrations of 2022-2023 – was curated by Alessandra Rodolfo, curator of the Department of 17th and 18th Century Art, with the direct involvement of the director, Barbara Jatta, and is structured in various sections within the Vatican Museums, offering visitors the exceptional opportunity to admire a vast selection of works by Canova, which shed light on the importance and the influence on the art of his time and highlight his personality and technical mastery.

During the crucial years of the Napoleonic occupation and the Restoration”, comments Barbara Jatta, Director of the Vatican Museums, “Antonio Canova was a fundamental figure in the papal cultural policy that valorised his organisational skills, his spirit of service, and his interest in the protection and safeguarding of the artistic heritage that was entrusted to his vigilant control. The Vatican Museums owe so much to this extraordinary figure, and that is why we have decided to celebrate him”.

Hall of the Ladies – The initiative offers the opportunity to open to the public the Hall of the Ladies, in which works, sketches and plaster casts created by Canova have been placed together with works by artists close to him, such as Giuseppe De Fabris and Cincinnato Baruzzi. The room is among the finest in the Vatican Museums and until now not accessible to visitors. It was built at the behest of Pope Paul V Borghese between 1608 and 1609, and it was the same pontiff who decided to commission Guido Reni to paint the wonderful frescoes on the vault depicting Pentecost, the Transfiguration and the Ascent to Heaven. The precious wall decorations immerse the visitor in a 19th-century atmosphere, in full harmony with Canova's works.

A group of works by Canova, mostly religious subjects, from the legacy of Cardinal Placido Zurla, has been placed in the seventeenth-century Hall of the Ladies, whose ceiling is embellished with frescoes by Guido Reni”, says Alessandra Rodolfo, curator of the Department of 17th and 18th Century Art. “The installation comes at the end of a project aimed at restoring to the public all the Vatican works of the great Maestro”.

Hall XVII of the Vatican Pinacoteca - Usually used as a space to present the exhibition initiatives of Museums at Work, this time it is intended to recreate the atmosphere of the “Roman studio” of the sculptor who, in 1783, established his atelier between Via delle Colonnette and Via di San Giacomo, today Via Antonio Canova. A compulsory destination for travellers on the Grand Tour, diplomats, aristocrats and intellectuals of the time frequented the rooms together with young sculptors eager to obtain the precious teachings of the Maestro and to enter the complex Roman art world.

In addition to the powerful bust of Pope Pius VII made by Canova, the exhibition also includes a model of Canova's Studio where, on the main and side elevations of the building, ancient fragments of Roman sculptures and architectural elements are inserted, a reminder of Canova's antiquarian taste and his constant commitment to the protection and conservation of artistic heritage. The bust of Canova by Antonio d'Este is also flanked by a ceramic tondo with a portrait of Canova by Maestro Luigi Ontani, who now works in one of the rooms of Canova's studio.

The exhibition tour continues in various spaces of the Vatican Museums where visitors will find a series of explanatory panels corresponding to the works of the Maestro of Possagno, to explore themes and topics dear to him.

Cabinet of Perseus - Located within the splendid setting of the Cortile Ottagono (Octagonal Court) and sculpted on the master's personal initiative between the end of 1800 and the beginning of 1801, the Perseus depicts the hero of Greek mythology. Canova almost seems to be playing with myth by portraying the hero who proudly turns his triumphant gaze on his monstrous trophy, the face of Medusa, and has become a stone statue for this very reason. Next to him, the two famous statues of the Boxers, Creugas and Damoxenos, inspired by an encounter narrated by Pausanias in his work “Hellados Periegesis” (“Description of Greece”) are displayed just as Canova had conceived them, facing each other.

The Chiaramonti Museum  Created in the early nineteenth century, it was intended to extend the papal sculptural collections following the Napoleonic requisitions. This splendid gallery is the one that most bears the sign of Canova’s stringent supervision, implemented through the work of his trusted collaborator, the sculptor Antonio D’Este. In addition to the works resulting from numerous purchases, further sculptures transferred from the Vatican Palaces and the gardens of the Quirinale were added to the layout, making a total of around 1100 artefacts. The overall appearance of the Gallery responded and continues to respond fully to 18th century antiquarian taste. A true celebration of archaeology, understood as a modern discipline.

New Wing (Braccio Nuovo) – The building was conceived by the architect Raffaele Stern to house the ancient sculptures then present in the papal collections. This space reflects Canova’s attention to harmony of the whole, in which ancient and modern seem to dialogue in perfect harmony. Whoever enters the Vatican Museums must allow themselves a pause in this gallery: they will realise - shrouded in the silvery light streaming from the skylights - that the Braccio Nuovo is the last organic tribute our civilisation paid to Antiquity.