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Canova and the Dance

21.10.2016 to 22.01.2017

Antonio Canova (born 1757, Possagno – died 1822, Venice), the most important sculptor of Italian Neoclassicism, had a lifelong passion for dance. This exhibition is dedicated to the sculptor's favourite theme – from sketch to painting to completed marble artwork – and brings together some of the master's major works for the first time. In his memoirs, Canova's friend, the sculptor Antonio D'Este, writes that in their youth they would sometimes go for walks together on feast days in the mountainous area surrounding Rome or in Trastevere... to watch the common girls dance; a dance which, along with the innocence of the dancers, he (Canova) liked very much and from which, by observing the natural movements of these girls, he again and again drew a lesson that benefited his art.

Canova's numerous drawings served as a broad artistic foundation for his tempera works, individual paintings and marble sculptures from the last decade of the 18th century and the early 19th century. His three life-size Dancers can be considered the climax of his engagement with dance: Dancer with Hands on Hips, created for Napoleon's first wife Josephine de Beauharnais, which arrived at the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg in 1815; Dancer with Finger on Chin, the model of which is kept at the Museo Canova; and Dancer with Cymbals from the Berlin Skulpturensammlung, which was created in 1809–12, as commissioned by Count Andreas K. Razumovsky, the Russian ambassador in Vienna. These three compositions can be seen together for the first time in this exhibition.

The three Dancers embody Canova's ideal of feminine grace. Canova's passion for dance and his predilection for sculpting the human form with the appearance of weightlessness were already evident in his 1796 sculpture of Hebe, a work from the Nationalgalerie's collection that was acquired for the Berlin museums in 1825 by King Frederick William III. According to Canova himself, he was inspired by works of ancient art, paintings on Greek vases and frescoes from Herculaneum. Classical statues like the Dancing Maenad from Berlin's Antikensammlung were also inspiring when it came to sculpting marble. But with the subtlety and sensitivity of his surface treatment, Canova surpassed the classical models, and was widely and greatly admired by his contemporaries for doing so.

The exhibition is a collaboration with the Museo Canova in Possagno and the Museo Civico in Bassano del Grappa.

The exhibition is sponsored by Vattenfall; the events programme is held in association with the Staatsballett Berlin. Media partners: rbb kulturradio, tip and ZITTY.

Antonio Canova: Tänzerin, Rom, 1809/12
© Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Skulpturensammlung und Museum für Byzantinische Kunst / Antje Voigt; CC NC-BY-SA

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Related Links

Exhibition trailer "Canova and the Dance" (German only)

Film for the Exhibition "Canova and the Dance": Alicia Ruben, Staatsballett Berlin (German only)

Film for the Exhibition "Canova and the Dance": Katharina Geist, Gewandmeisterin Bühnenservice Berlin (German only)

Film for the exhibition "Canova and the Dance": Paul Hofmann, Leiter der Restaurierungswerkstatt (German only)

Catalogue (German)