(b. 1757, Possagno, d. 1822, Venezia)
Perseus with the Head of Medusa1804-06
Marble, height 217 cm
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Canova, the preeminent sculptor of the age of Neoclassicism, was a prodigiously talented carver of marble. In Canova's hands the stone yielded brilliant effects, both pristine and sensual, fulfilling the notions of a classical past embraced by his contemporaries. Here Perseus stands coolly triumphant, holding up the severed head of the snake-haired gorgon Medusa, the sight of which will turn anyone into stone for gazing on it. The pose vividly recalls the Apollo Belvedere, the work of antiquity most admired in Canova's era. The first version of the Perseus was acquired by Pope Pius VII as a replacement for the Apollo itself, which Napoleon had removed from the Vatican and shipped to the Louvre in Paris. The Perseus was so successful that it remained as a companion to the returned Apollo when the Congress of Vienna compelled the restitution of the Napoleonic booty. The Museum's version was purchased from Canova by the Polish countess Valeria Tarnowska.