Canova Antonio, Teach the Ignorant
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works associated

1,795; plaster
cm. 117 x 135

Inventory: BD00141AFC
Provenance: Villa Rezzonico, Bassano del Grappa; Palazzo San Bonifacio, Padua
Exibition: 1999, Monza, n. 55; 2002, Milano, Palazzo Reale, n. XV.24; 2019-2020, Milano, n. XVII.14

Feed the Hungry and Teach the Ignorant, the last two plaster reliefs of the series, inspired by works of charity, entered the collection of Abbondio Rezzonico in 1795. This period marked the end of Canova’s close relationship with the senator, whose ever-greater political difficulties in Rome and the Veneto region effectively prevented him from commissioning any new works from the master.

Carl Ludwig Fernow states that the two reliefs "were placed in a free school for poor children set up by him [the senator] on his estate". Recent studies carried out by Enrico Noè on Canova’s commissions for Abbondio Rezzonico cast some doubt as to the location of the two plaster reliefs. It has still to be established whether the school was set up in a room of the villa or in a nearby building and indeed whether the two works were actually placed there. It appears somewhat unlikely that works by the leading artist of the time would be used for educational purposes as a sort of visual programme for teachers and pupils.

Produced in accordance with the client’s wishes, the works with an evident philanthropic message are connected with the Rezzonico family tradition, as celebrated also in the marble altarpiece that Abbondio commissioned the sculptor Antonio d’Este to produce for his chapel in the church of San Marco in Rome between 1795 and 1806. This depiction of his ancestor the Blessed Gregorio Barbarigo feeding and clothing the poor is similar in subject matter and composition to the former of Canova’s two reliefs. Having abandoned the dramatic tension of the reliefs on literary subjects, Canova created two images of classic composure in these works of great moral and religious value.

The visual fortunes of the reliefs and especially the ones on works of charity is attested by their reproduction in etchings by Antonio Banzo to drawings by Giovanni Demin and in engravings by Giovanni Martino De Boni. Canova was the first sculptor to engage in the organic promotion of printed reproductions of his work, thus fostering their circulation for commercial purposes and at the same time recognizing the potential of the print as a tool for the knowledge and study of his oeuvre, destined to enjoy universal success.

From November 2011, the work has been on view at the Gallerie d’Italia in Milan.

Sources:Archivio Fondazione Cariplo, Iniziative Patrimoniali S.p.A


Giuseppe Pavanello, Antonio Canova: i gessi “Rezzonico”, in “Bollettino del Museo Civico di Padova”, LXXIII, Padova, 1984, pp. 145-162;
Fernando Mazzocca, I bassorilievi di Antonio Canova, in “Ca de Sass”, 119, Cariplo, Milano, Settembre 1992, pp. 20-26;
Fernando Mazzocca, Antonio Canova e i bassorilievi della collezione Rezzonico, Cariplo, Milano, 1993, (con bibliografia precedente);
Grazia Bernini Pezzini e Fabio Fiorani, a cura di, Canova e l’incisione, catalogo della mostra, Roma, Istituto Nazionale per la Grafica, 11 novembre 1993 – 6 gennaio 1994, Bassano del Grappa, Museo Civico, 19 gennaio – 24 aprile 1994, Ghedina e Tassotti, Bassano del Grappa, 1993;
Andrea Spiriti, Antonio Canova, in Maria Luisa Gatti Perer, a cura di, Le collezioni d’arte. Dal Classico al Neoclassico, Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio delle Provincie Lombarde, Editore, 1998, nn. 44-56, pp. 140-154;
M. Guderzo, I Bassorilievi Cariplo, in Renato Barillli, a cura di, Canova e Appiani alle origini della contemporaneità, catalogo della mostra, Monza, Serrone della Villa Reale, 30 aprile - 25 luglio 1999, Mazzotta, Milano 1999, pp. 111-113;
Fernando Mazzocca, Il Neoclassicismo in Italia. Da Tiepolo a Canova, catalogo della mostra, Milano, Palazzo Reale, 2 marzo – 28 luglio 2002, Skira Artificio, Milano, 2002, nn. XV.12-XV.24, pp. 518-520;
Pietro Giordani - Antonio Canova - Giovanni Battista Sartori. Carteggio con la riproduzione di 85 incisioni canoviane, Edizione critica a cura di Matteo Ceppi e Claudio Giambonini, TiPleCo, Piacenza, 2005;
Enrico Noè, Abbondio Rezzonico committente del Canova, in Giuliana Ericani - Fernando Mazzocca, a cura di, VI settimana di studi canoviani, Istituto di ricerca per gli studi su Canova e il Neoclassicismo, Bassano del Grappa, 2008, pp. 69-84;
Elena Lissoni, in Fernando Mazzocca, a cura di, Da Canova a Boccioni. Le collezioni della Fondazione Cariplo e di Intesa Sanpaolo, Skira, Milano, 2011, nn. I. 1-13, pp. 179-181, ill.;
Stefano Grandesso e Fernando Mazzocca, a cura di, Canova Thorvaldsen. La nascita della scultura moderna, catalogo della mostra, Milano, Gallerie d'Italia, 25 ottobre 2019 - 15 marzo 2020, Skira - Gallerie d'Italia, Milano, 2019, n. XVII.14, p. 391;
Marco Bona Castellotti, Breve itinerario tra le opere d'arte della Cariplo, in "La Ca' de Sass", numero speciale, Cariplo, Milano, s.d., pp. 10-13

Elena Lissoni
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