An exceptionally rare and beautiful terracotta model by the celebrated Italian sculptor Antonio Canova (1757-1822) has just gone on public display for the first time at the Wallace Collection, on loan from a private collection.
The model, made of terracotta (fired clay), depicts the ancient goddess of youth, Hebe, flying through the air. Unlike the finished marble statues of this subject by Canova, the previously unknown terracotta model lacks her head, hands and feet. This seems to have been done deliberately by the artist, in order to focus attention onto her dynamic, twisting torso.
Antonio Canova was one of the most famous artists of his day, the leading Neo-classical sculptor in the decades around 1800. Born near Venice, Canova spent most of his career in Rome, becoming a Europe-wide celebrity, with emperors, princes and other wealthy patrons vying to obtain his work. Known in four marble versions, Hebe was one of Canova’s most celebrated compositions, praised by contemporaries for its grace, beauty and its originality. The rediscovered terracotta model appears to be a study for the third version, c. 1808-14 and now at Chatsworth, which Canova regarded as the finest.
Canova’s model for Hebe forms the centrepiece of a small display in the Porphyry Court of the Wallace Collection, 4 October 2011 – 16 April 2012, in which it is displayed alongside related works from the permanent collection.