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"Pair Recumbent Stone Lions" 
after Antonio Canova (1757-1822) 
Italian (possibly Florence)
Mid 19th Century 
Alabaster, marble
6 x 9 x 4 inches


This is an exquisite pair of Italian alabaster lions on marble bases based on the monumental lions carved by Antonio Canova (1757-1822), the greatest Italian neoclassical sculptor. Canova sculpted the marble lions for the monumental tomb of Pope Clement XIII in St. Peter’s, Rome in 1792.


Canova Lions refers to the pair of copies of lion sculptures by Antonio Canova. When Canova created the sculptures in 1792, he installed them on the tomb of Pope Clement XIII. The marble sculptures are some of the most prominent features in St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. Given the intricacies of creating the original Canova lions, some artists created molds and replicated them. A good example is the pair of lion sculptures at the Corcoran Gallery of Art entrance in Washington DC which have stood in their same location since 1860. Canova was able to create such life-like, believable sculptures because as one of the premier artists in 18th-century Rome, he was known for the length of time he spent during the study phase. Canova was so meticulous that when the time came to create a sculpture, he would do it without making any corrections. With his large studio, Canova was able to execute highly-sophisticated projects for rulers like French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, European aristocracy and nobility as well as prominent Italian religious figures.  


St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican City is home to exquisite works of art by some of Italy's finest sculptors, including Michelangelo. Like Canova, Michelangelo took part in memorable sculptural and architectural projects. Especially notable examples of Michelangelo's work are the sculpture of David in Florence and the frescoes on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Clearly Canova is in good company regarding his stature as an artist. Having worked for St. Peter's Basilica, he must have made a name for himself and attracted commissions for bigger projects. You only need to see the popularity of the Canova lions to know his impact on the world of art.


By the close examination of the two Canova lions it's possible to derive their meanings. While one lion is sleeping, the other is more vibrant. The combination of the two lions tells us about the Pope's moderate yet determined mien.  Before he died, Canova made many copies of the two lions for different clients across the world. Other artists created copies many years after he had died.


The Canova lions have proved to be eternally popular images; copies were made soon after in the workshops of Rome to sell to wealthy ‘Grand Tourists’ as souvenirs from their classical tour. In England, Canova’s greatest patron was the 6th Duke of Devonshire whose seat was at Chatsworth House, Derbyshire.


The Grand Tour of the late 17th, 18th and 19th centuries saw many upper class, wealthy and aristocratic gentlemen and ladies traveling to Italy and Europe for pleasure, education and inspiration. This afforded them the opportunity to view important classical and Renaissance works of art and architecture. 


The term ‘Grand Tour’ was coined by the Catholic priest and travel writer Richard Lassels (circa 1603-68), who used it in his influential guidebook "The Voyage of Italy," published in 1670, to describe young lords travelling abroad to learn about art, architecture and antiquity.  Robert Adam wrote of Rome in 1755, ‘Rome is the most glorious place in the universal world. A grandeur and tranquillity reigns in it, everywhere noble and striking remains of antiquity appear in it, which are so many that one who has spent a dozen years in seeing it is still surprised with something new…’

Pair of Alabaster Stone Lions & Marble Bases; Florence, Italy; Mid 19th Century

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