Last Updated on January 31, 2024 by Laura Teso
Possagno is a small town in Veneto, Italy. It is famous for being the homeland of Antonio Canova, one of the greatest sculptors of neoclassicism. Possagno is worth a visit because it houses 2 places relating to the famous artist: the Gypsotheca Museum and the Canova Temple.
Antonio Canova Gypsotheca Museum
Canova’s birthplace was transformed into a museum in 1896. It houses a rich collection of the artist’s works. Over 700 plaster casts, as well as sketches, scale models and finished works in marble and bronze.
The Gypsotheca Canoviana is one of my favorite museums and I always gladly go back. In my opinion it’s really worth it. I especially appreciate the expansion (1957) and rearrangement by Carlo Scarpa, who truly knew how to enhance the beauty of the works.
The Canova museum includes:
- Canova’s birthplace, where you can admire the artist’s drawings and works.
- Gypsotheca: the name derives from Greek. It means collection of plaster casts and in fact it exhibits the plaster models of Canova’s works. After the death of the artist, who had moved to Rome, it was his brother who wanted the creation of this space. He transferred the plaster casts by ship and then by wagon.
- The property also includes: garden, orchard, park, library, and historical archive.
Canova’s art is characterized by the search for perfection, beauty and purity of ancient art, with a completely new attention to making faces and body attitudes more expressive and human.
The 3 most important works of Canova
All Canova’s sculptures are absolute masterpieces, but the 3 most famous are certainly the following:
- Paolina Borghese representing Napoleon Bonaparte’s sister as the goddess of beauty (Galleria Borghese, Rome).
- Cupid and Psyche, which represents the moment in which Cupid kisses Psyche, awakening her from eternal sleep (Louvre Museum, Paris).
- Three Graces, a sculptural group representing the three daughters of Zeus (Aglaia, Euphrosyne and Thalia), who symbolize splendor, joy and prosperity (Victoria and Albert Museum, London and National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh).
Of all three, at the Canoviano Museum in Possagno you can admire the magnificent preparatory plaster casts.
I highly recommend booking a guided tour, which will allow you to learn about the historical context, the execution techniques of the works and various anecdotes about Canova’s life.
Gypsotheca Canova Museum
museocanova.it/en/. via Canova 74, Possagno (TV). Closed Mon. Tuesday – Sunday: 9.30am – 6pm
The temple, located a few steps from the museum, is a neoclassical church from the first half of the 19th century, located on a hill which places it in a privileged position compared to Possagno. Canova financed the works almost entirely, in which the whole country actively participated. It is also a monument dedicated to the artist’s memory and houses his tomb.
The temple is a neoclassical building in Doric style with a pronaos with six columns, a central body and an apse. The artist intended to celebrate the greatness of three civilizations: Roman, Greek and Christian. The central body is in fact reminiscent of the Pantheon in Rome. The Doric colonnade is based on the Parthenon in Athens. The apse, with the altarpiece by Canova himself, refers to Christian churches. Unfortunately, the artist died before the consecration of the Temple, inside which we can admire his tomb.
- During the Second World War, the temple was a refuge for the Gypsotheca plaster casts, to protect them from bombings.
- There is a second funerary monument dedicated to Canova in the Frari church, Venice. I know it’s weird but that monument keeps the artist’s heart. Tthe rest of his body is in the Canova Temple of Possagno instead.Except another part, the righ hand.
- For several years, the artist’s right hand was placed inside a red porphyry container at the entrance to the Academy of Fine Arts in Venice. As a sort of inspiration for the new generations of artists, I guess. However, it is currently in Possagno, next to the tomb.
Attention. The temple is the town’s church. Therefore you can’t visit it during religious functions (for example on Sunday mornings).