Antonio Canova

Venus italica

Venus italica by Antonio Canova

Artwork Detail

Canova’s Italian Venus (Venus italica) was commissioned as a replacement for the famous Medici Venus which had been seized by Napoleon in 1802 and removed to the Louvre. (It was eventually returned.) The Medici Venus is itself a 1st century BC copy of a work by Cleomenes of Athens.

Writers have described the figure created by Canova as the artist’s most subtle and complex creation. Rather than making a direct copy, he altered the figure so that it seems more immediate and human. "When I saw this divine work of Canova," wrote the poet Ugo Foscolo in 1811, "I sighed with a thousand desires, for really, if the Medici Venus is a most beautiful goddess, this is a most beautiful woman."

Its popularity meant that a number of replicas were made, but how many is unclear. Rather than copying directly from the antique, Canova would form the clay model from which a plaster cast was made, which he considered to be the original work of art. His assistants then copied the form accurately in marble with the aid of a pointing compass. Only if Canova himself had been involved in the finishing and polishing, giving the marble a ‘diaphanous luminosity’, was the replica considered authentic. Made of the same Carrara marble as Michelangelo’s Pietà in St Peters, Rome, light passes through the folds on Venus’s drapery on the Auckland figure, a superb example of Canova's virtuosity.The work was restored in 2005, thanks to the generosity of Trethewey Granite and Marble.

Venus italica
Antonio Canova
Production date
circa 1812
1752 x 534 x 534 mm
Credit line
Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, gift of Moss Davis, 1931
Accession no
No known copyright restrictions
International Art
Display status
Not on display

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