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© Helicon Magazine 2019

University of Bristol

 

smooth and sensuous

Sculpture of Antonio Canova
By Ellie Lerman

Antonio Canova was a highly regarded Italian Neoclassical sculptor that worked in the 19th century. Canova’s area of expertise, Neoclassicism, drew inspiration from the art and culture of classical antiquity which favoured idealised human bodies and mythical subjects. While Canova’s pure white marbles are smooth, sensuous, and graceful in pose; he uses the composition of the piece ‘The Three Graces’ (1815-17) to explore the male gaze and female subversion. The Three Graces were mythological sisters and goddesses of youth, beauty, mirth, and elegance; and their iconography was popular during the Neoclassical period, cropping up in many important artworks. Canova’s work depicts three poised, elegant, alluring female figures that cluster together in a tender embrace held united by a scarf wrapped around their slender legs (in an suggestively erotic fashion); a strikingly intimate scene in which the viewer almost uncomfortably becomes a voyeur. 

However, the eyes of the viewer are essential to Canova- they are his tool of dominance. What becomes apparent upon observation, is that the faces and bodies of the women are exactly identical, repeated only in different poses and angles. With this artistry in place, the viewer is able to consider every aspect of the female form without even moving a step; they are free to ogle at their own pleasure. Additionally, a role reversal begins to take place- the statue is so beautiful it is seemingly alive and turns its viewer to stone (alluding to the myth of Medusa). Canova’s sculptures were criticised for being too preoccupied on touch and physical form and not paying enough attention to thought and idea; however it is important to note his sculptures as reaching an incredible feat of artistic skill and aesthetic beauty.