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Perseus with the head of Medusa

after Antonio Canova (Possagno 1757 - Venice 1822)

Category

Art / Sculpture

Date

1801 - 1835

Materials

Plaster, wood

Measurements

2000 x 1400 x 500 mm

Order this image

Collection

Knole, Kent

NT 128705

Summary

Plaster statue, Perseus with the head of Medusa, plaster cast after Antonio Canova's (1757-1822) marble statue of 1801, now in the Vatican Museum, Rome. Perseus is depicted triumphant with the severed head of Medusa in his left hand. He is shown in a winged hat, the 'Cap of Hades', winged sandals lent to him by Hermes and a sword in his right hand lent to him by Zeus. Perseus stands in a contraposto pose, with his weight on his left leg, with his head turned to look at the severed head of Medusa in his right hand.

Full description

Antonio Canova’s famed marble statue of Perseus with the head of Medusa was carved between 1800 and 1801. It was originally commissioned for the tribune of Onorato Duveyriez, but was subsequently bought by Pope Pius VII Chiaramonti who displayed it on the pedestal that had formally contained the famous antique statue, the Apollo Belvedere, which had been taken to France by Napoleon in 1797. Canova was deliberately referencing the Apollo Belvedere in his statue of Perseus, both in his pose and demeanour. Both Apollo and Perseus stand with left arm outstretched and head turned to the left, with a cloak draped over the left arm. The head of Medusa, held outstretched in Perseus’ left hand was based on another famous antiquity, the Rondanini Medusa (Glyptothek, Munich), a marble mask. Canova was regarded as the preeminent sculptor of his age and the champion of Neoclassical sculpture. He was also a daring and brilliant sculptor, who tested the limits of marble. In his statue of Perseus, the left arm is cantilevered over nothing, holding out the heavy marble head of Medusa. This imbues the statue with a great sense of movement and strength, but is a technically complex composition. Canova produced two versions of the statue in marble, the second was commissioned by Count Jan and Countess Valeria Tarnowski (now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York). The production of plaster casts after famous works such as this was commonplace in the nineteenth century. Canova himself gave casts after many of his statues and busts to academies and friends all over Europe. It is not known exactly when and how the full size plaster copy of Perseus with the head of Medusa came to Knole, but it was acquired prior to 1837 when it was listed in an inventory of the house. Anna Moore (July 2018)

Provenance

Unknown date of purchase, but acquired prior to March 1837 when it was listed in an inventory of the house. The statue would have been acquired during the time of minority of the 4th Duke, George John Frederick Sackville (1793-1815) or soon after his death.

Credit line

National Trust Collections (Knole, the Sackville Collection)

Makers and roles

after Antonio Canova (Possagno 1757 - Venice 1822), sculptor

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