Artibus et Historiae no. 24 (XII)

1991, ISSN 0391-9064

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HUGH HONOUR - A Bust of Sappho by Antonio Canova

In the last decade of his life, Antonio Canova carved a series of idealized female marble busts, one of which was of the ancient Greek poet Sappho (Barbara Piasecka Johnson Collection, Princeton, N.J.). This bust is more restrained than most of the others, but the severity of the form is belied by the gentle charm of the expression, which is animated by an enigmatic smile with a hint of sadness. A few locks of hair escape from the smooth coiffure, showing that the sculptor's ideal of beauty, far from being purely cerebral and abstract, was humanized by naturalistic touches that lent "an extraordinary softness" to his work, in the words of a contemporary admirer.

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