Antonio was born in 1757 in Possagno. After his father’s death he grew up with his grandfather Pasino Canova who was a sculptor and stonecutter. Pasino was also in the service of the noble Giovanni Falier.
How butter can change your life
Accordingto tradition, one evening the noble Giovanni Falier organized a banquet for Venetian noblemen at his Villa in Predazzi di Asolo: In the kitchen everyone was busy and due to a misadventure in this hustle and bustle a glass sculpture made of Murano glass, that should have decorated a cake, shattered into thousand pieces.
The governess that had already watched Antonio different times working clay artistically, asked the boy for help.
Also the cooks asked him to create something original and so Antonio started to form a majestic Saint Mark’s lion with spread wings out of butter(!). The guests were speechless and overwhelmed. Falier decided to take Antonio under his wing and give him the possibility of an artistic education(11 years old he went to Giuseppe Bernardi-Torretti).
Only 18years old (1775) Antonio opened his own workshop in Venice in Campo Santo Stefano and earned a lot of appreciation for his „Daedalus and Icarus“ (today in the Museo Correr). Antonio also travelled to Rome: This was a very important experience for this young artist guiding to his new orientation on the Roman Antiquity and the development of his neoclassic style.
His figures are elegant, beautiful and characterized by simplicity and pureness: The pomp of Baroque style was forgotten.
Despite the material (marble!) the figures look soft and have an inner light that Antonio gave his artworks by polishing them by hand. This process also lead to his death. The marble dust that he had inhaled for years caused a silicosis that cost his life in 1822.
One of his travels also brought him to Vienna where he was commissioned the tomb of archduchess Marie Christine (1805) by her husband the duke Albert von Sachsen-Teschen, a monument you can still admire in the Augustinerkirche in Vienna.
His heart stays in Venice inside a "pyramid"
Also in Venice you can marble at this tomb: It is the tomb of Canova himself where only his heart had been buried. It is located in the Frari Church and is based on the plans for a tomb for the artist Titian (that had never realized and was thus used for Marie Christine’s tomb) and built by Canova’s students.
The pyramid holds a medallion in its centre part with the profile of Canova, sustained by two angels and surrounded by a snake (immortality!).
At the base of the pyramid you can see steps leading up to a half-closed door leading tothe burial chamber.
The pyramid is a symbol for the separation between death and life.
A woman with a veil approaches the burial chamber: The personification of the „weeping sculpture“. The other two women following her are „painting“ and „architecture“. The young boys with the lit torches are the genii (art will never die!). On the left you can see a sleeping Saint Mark’s lion and a beautiful angel with closed eyes, covered with a fig leave and a blown out torch: A symbol for the genius of Canova.
Join us on an enchanting walking tour of the Frari Basilica and Canova's exquisite tomb on a journey through art and history in Venice.
Please find more details on this walking tour on our Venice tour page (click here) that is also accessible barrierfree.