A stunning marble bust of Lucrezia d’Este, one of the last works of Antonio Canova, is coming to auction for the first time.
The bust will be offered for auction by Hôtel des Ventes de Monte-Carlo, Monaco, in the auction Mobilier et Objets d’Art, Dessins, Tableaux Anciens et XIXème Siècle, on April 27th. No estimate of its price has been released, but a comparable Canova piece, Bust of Peace, sold for over £5m in 2018.
“I read that in times of old, when people produced a sound they used to modulate it, expressing it in a higher and lower tone without straying from the path of harmony. This is what an artist must do.” – Antonio Canova
Canova (1757-1822) is often regarded as the greatest of the Italian Neoclassical sculptors. His work was inspired by the Baroque and the classical revival, but avoided the melodramatics of the former, and the cold artificiality of the latter. He was born in the Venetian Republic city of Possagno into a family of stonemasons, and began sculpting in clay at age 10. He worked extensively in Rome, studying the works of Michelangelo, and in 1781 sculpted a sensational Theseus and the Minotaur, now in the V&A.
By 1800, Canova was one of the most celebrated artists in Europe, promoting his reputation by publishing engravings of his works and having marble versions of plaster casts made in his workshop. He acquired famous patrons including Napoleon Bonaparte, who commissioned as sculpture of himself as Mars the Peacemaker in 1802. Ironically, this ended up in the hands of the Duke of Wellington after his victory over Napoleon at Waterloo.
Canova pioneered artistic fads such as the viewing of statuary by candlelight, and developed new techniques for reproducing works and finishing surfaces. He died in Venice at the age of 64, his world-wide reputation sealed by a memorial service which rivalled that of Michelangelo.
The marble bust of Lucrezia D’Este, made between 1821 and 1822, measures 42 x 25 x 14 cm. It was owned by Alexander Baring (1774 – 1848), 1st Baron Ashburton, a member of the famous family of English bankers, who was also given Antonio Canova’s bust of Napoleon by French Prime Minister Talleyrand. On Baring’s death, much of his collection was bought by an American banker, and the Lucrezia d’Este bust was last displayed in New York in 1928.
Lucrezia d’Este was the third daughter of the Duke of Ferrara, Ercole II d’Este and Princess Renée of France, the daughter of King Louis XII of France and Anne of Brittany. Her grandparents were Alfonso I d’Este and Lucrezia Borgia, the daughter of Pope Alexander VI. Her elder brother Alfonso II d’Este inherited the dukedom of Ferrara. Torquato Tasso dedicated his poem: O daughters of Renata to Lucrezia d’Este and her sister Leonora. A patron of the arts and a follower of the latest fashions, on 18 February 1570 she married Francesco Maria II della Rovere, Duke of Urbino. Notable for her beauty, she had a series of scandalous affairs, and died in 1598.
Canova’s bust of Lucrezia is part of his quest for an artistic ideal inspired by Napoleonic portraits of women. He was influenced by characters in mythology, as well as real life, and used this to give his famous clients what they wanted, as well as meeting the precepts of classical beauty. Professor Mario Guderzo, Director, Curator of the Gypsotheca e Museo Canova, Possagno, Italy, describes the piece this way: “The ideal head, as Canova conceived it, was inspired by the precepts of classical beauty, a play on the shape of the face, the contours of the eyes, nose and lips, in an attempt to create isolated shades while avoiding traits that could cross or overlap… The unfailing and evocative sensorial effectiveness, the unattainable perfection of Canova’s ‘last hand’ and the realistic tactile evidence of the face were captured marvellously in the ‘dainty curls’ of this portrait of Lucrezia, a vorticose crown on her head, “arranged” on her forehead in favour of spaciousness, gathered at the temples on both sides of her face.”
More details of the auction here.