Antonio Canova (1757- 1822) was a prominent Italian Neoclassical sculptor, mostly celebrated for his work in marble. Canova began producing works in marble before the age of ten, before enrolling in the Accademia di Belle Arti di Venezia around 1772. Canova won numerous prizes and received several commissions, which led to him opening his own studio at Calle Del Traghetto at S. Maurizio in 1779. From this point, Canova travelled to and worked in several European cities, before returning to Italy in 1816, where he continued to work until his death in 1822.
Due to his success, Canova received many commissions and no longer had to rely on funerary monuments for large-scale work, and could explore large freestanding classical figures, such as his ‘Hercules and Lichas’ from 1795- 1815, commissioned by Onorato Gaetani dell’Aquila d’Aragona. Often inspired by antiquity, Canova was known for reviving classical works in a way that avoided melodrama of antiquity and the artificiality of Neoclassicism. The tale of Hercules and Lichas is recounted in book IX of Ovid’s Metamorphoses: Hercules puts on a shirt poisoned with Nessus’ blood, and, driven mad by the pain, thinks that his servant Lichas is to blame. Lichas tried to explain his innocence, however Hercules threw him into the waves of the Euboic Sea. The original statue is now conserved in the National Gallery of Modern Art in Rome.
Canova is often regarded as the greatest Neoclassical artist, which is evidenced by his series of important international patrons including Napoleon Bonaparte, and Popes Pius VI and VII. His work is held in many institutions including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Louvre in Paris, and the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg.