Sunday, August 4, 2019

The Canova Museum & the Gypsotheca wing designed by Carlo Scarpa - Daytrip to Possagno from Venice

Venice Blog - Canova Temple - photo by Cat Bauer
Canova Temple - Photo: Cat Bauer
(Possagno, Italy) During his lifetime, Antonio Canova was the most celebrated artist in Europe. The neo-classical sculptor carved images of the gods into human form, and carved exceptional humans into marble gods. He immortalized both Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte and President George Washington in marble, depicting Napoleon as "Mars the Peacemaker" and Washington decked out as an ancient Roman general, complete with sandals. Canova captured love and beauty and courage and strength, and carved those noble attributes solidly into stone.

George Washington by Canova - Photo: Cat Bauer
Yet, at his core, he remained a hometown boy. Canova was born in the small village of Possagno in the foothills of the Dolomites in a province of Treviso. The population is less than 2,100. But tiny Possagno cherishes an enormous treasure, for that is where Antonio Canova built his temple, laying the cornerstone himself on July 11, 1819, two hundred years ago.

VENICE BLOG Vittorio Sgarbi with Paolina Bonaparte as Venus Victorious by Canova - Photo: Cat Bauer
Vittorio Sgarbi with Paolina Bonaparte as Venus Victorious - Photo: Cat Bauer
Possagno celebrated the 200th anniversary with a concert, guided tours, lectures and more. From July 11 to 14, the number of visitors were double the population of the town, with more than 4,000 participants in four days. The colorful Vittorio Sgarbi, an "Italian art critic, art historian, politician, cultural commentator and television personality" was on hand in his position as the new President of the Canova Foundation, taking over in January from the beloved Franca Coin, whose tireless efforts put Possagno on the map by connecting the sculptor's provincial hometown to the majesty of Venice.

(An aside: during the preview of the Venice Art Biennale, I was walking through Arsenale, absorbed in the art, when suddenly -- standing in a nook right in front of me in a strategic location where visitors must turn right -- there was Vittorio Sgarbi, jumping around, yelling into his phone and gesturing wildly. Two young Japanese women stood gaping at him. "Is he part of the installation?" they asked. "No," I grinned. "He's an Italian politician. That's how he is.")

VENICE BLOG - George Washington in the Nude by Canova - photo by Cat Bauer
George Washington in the Nude by Canova - Photo: Cat Bauer
Back on November 23, 2014, I wrote a post entitled George Washington in the Nude - Sublime Canova - Revival of the Famed Sculptor in Venice. Here is an excerpt:
I was astonished to learn that Antonio Canova (1757-1822), the renowned sculptor from the village of Possagno in the Veneto, had been commissioned to create a sculpture of George Washington by the North Carolina General Assembly back in 1816 for their State House when the Carolinians were feeling euphoric after the War of 1812. Thomas Jefferson himself urged that Canova, whom he considered the greatest sculptor in the world, create the neoclassical statue, which was brought to the United States on a war vessel, and arrived in Raleigh on December 24, 1821. Canova's depiction of Washington as an enlightened Roman general became "the pride and glory" of North Carolina, attracting visitors from near and far to their state capitol, including Washington's close friend, Lafayette.
Canova had never met George Washington, so he was sent a bust and a full-length portrait; the portrait never arrived, so Washington's body was left to Canova's imagination. Canova's instructions were that the style should be Roman, the size somewhat larger than life, and the attitude to be left to the artist.
 Click here to continue reading.
VENICE BLOG Inside the Canova Gypsotheca - Photo: Cat Baue
Inside the Canova Gypsotheca - Photo: Cat Bauer

Then, on October 1, 2017, I wrote a post on the Canova, Cicognara & Hayez exhibition at the Accademia Gallery, in which I presented more details about the dramatic historical events that took place in Europe during Canova's time entitled When Venice's Loot Came Back from France:
When Napoleon forced the Venetian Republic to surrender on May 12, 1797 and ended the 1000-year-old realm of La Serenissima, his soldiers hauled a lot of loot back to France -- the most cherished being the four bronze horses on the outside of Saint Mark's Basilica, dating from antiquity. In 1205, Venice herself had plundered the four horses from Constantinople, capital of the Roman Empire and Christian civilization. Napoleon hoisted the horses up on the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel in Paris to commemorate his victories.

The French swiped many other precious works of art, and hacked to pieces five thousand winged lions, the symbol of St. Mark, Venice's evangelist. They also nabbed the prized Lion of San Marco that was on the column in Piazza San Marco.

To continue reading, click here.

VENICE BLOG - Venice & Mars by Canova - Photo: Cat Bauer
Venice & Mars by Canova - Photo: Cat Bauer

If you read both posts, it will give you a better idea of what was happening in the United States and Europe during the time of Canova. While a new nation was being born, the Venetian Republic was collapsing and Napoleon was charging through Europe. It was in this context that Canova created his astonishing sculptures.

After Canova died, his step-brother, Bishop Giovanni Battista Sartori, decided to erect a building to house all the works of art and plaster models found in Canova's studio in Rome. The "Gypsotheca" was designed by Venetian architect  Francesco Lazzari, and completed in 1836. During the first World War, in 1917, a shell crashed through the roof of the Gypostheca, destroying major plaster casts completely and ruining others. The restoration work was undertaken by father and son team Stefgano and Siro Serafin, and in 1922 the museum opened its doors again. During World War II, the some of the statues were transferred up the hill and into Canova's Temple.
VENICE BLOG Canova's Three Graces dancing in Carlo Scarpa's Sun - Photo: Cat Bauer
Canova's Three Graces dancing in Carlo Scarpa's Sunlight - Photo: Cat Bauer

Then, between 1955 and 1957, Carlo Scarpa, the genius Venetian architect designed a new wing to include some plaster casts that had arrived from Venice (on a very long-term loan, as they are still there). Scarpa was a magician when it came to lassoing sunlight to illuminate beauty on earth. From the museum notes:
One more peculiar aspect of the structure designed by Carlo Scarpa is the presence of a stretch of water at the foot of the Graces. The reflection of sunlight on water creates endless variations... the three bodies seem to move all day long, playing with light and creating shadows on the open space around them. 

VENICE BLOG Carlo Scarpa self portrait - Photo: Cat Bauer
Carlo Scarpa self portrait - Photo: Cat Bauer
Proving he had a sense of humor, Carla Scarpa dashed off a caricature of himself above the door to the Gypsotheca, which is difficult to find unless you know what you are looking for. (Hint: it's covered by glass.)

A day trip to Possagno is a wonderful way to enrich a stay in Venice and gaze upon some works of genius far from the maddening crowds. First, visit the Correr Museum in Piazza San Marco and the Accademia Gallery to see what Canova treasures are in La Serenissima herself. (The original Canova marble monument to Admiral Angelo Emo is inside the Naval Museum, which is being restored.) Then, head up to Possagno. If you don't have a car, take the train to Bassano del Grappa, and then the bus, which drops you off right in front of the door.

Go to the Gypsotheca and Canova Museum for more information, and be sure to read my other two posts about Canova to get a more complete picture about the sculptor who turned humans into gods.

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

1 comment:

  1. During his lifetime, Antonio Canova was the most celebrated artist in Europe. The neo-classical sculptor carved images of the gods into human form, and carved exceptional humans into marble gods