Canova Antonio, Socrates Taking Leave of His Family
BD00132AFC.jpg
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1,787 - 1,790; plaster
cm. 125 x 271

Inventory: BD00132AFC
Provenance: Villa Rezzonico, Bassano del Grappa; Palazzo San Bonifacio, Padua
Exibition: 1999, Monza, n. 43; 2002, Milano, Palazzo Reale, n. XV.20

The last moments in the life of Socrates, as related in Plato’s Phaedo, are portrayed in the three reliefs of him taking leave of his family, committing suicide and being mourned by friends. The episode of the just man facing his sentence and death with serenity offered an extraordinary exemplum virtutis addressed repeatedly by leading Neoclassical artists such as Gambettino Cignaroli and Jacques-Louis David.

The sequence, interpreted here as a sort of secular Stations of the Cross, is developed as a narrative continuum that begins with Socrates Taking Leave of His Family, an episode minutely described in Canova’s correspondence. The other two reliefs, Socrates Drinking the Cup of Hemlock and Crito Closing the Eyes of Socrates, were also closely based on the literary model. It may have been precisely this drive for textual fidelity that prompted the artist also to produce the other and in all probability definitive version of the philosopher’s suicide in the series in Possagno, where a young couple replaces the two figures of the child and the bearded elder. The terse, simplified compositional structure of the relief Crito Closing the Eyes of Socrates was to reappear in the Lamentation of Christ in the temple at Possagno, painted between 1799 and 1821, where the artist again addressed the subject of the death, this time with a personal meditation on holiness, achieving a result of great formal synthesis and expressive accentuation.

Canova’s interest in Socrates was probably prompted by the introduction to Melchiorre Cesarotti’s Apologia di Socrate, where the Greek philosopher is described as a "martyr of natural religion", "herald of Christianity" and "saint of reason". Another important link with the Platonic dialogues must have been Carlo Gastone Della Torre di Rezzonico, a great admirer of Canova, portrayed in Naples by Louise Elizabeth Vigée-Lebrun in 1791 leaning contemplatively over a open volume of Phaedo.

The Rezzonico series does not include the episodes Socrates Defending Alcibiades at Potidea and Apology of Socrates, the latter a relief of the utmost rarity documented only by the copy in the Museo Canova and the Barisan Collection, now in Venice. These are two subjects addressed by Canova in the closing years of the 18th century together with the Death of Adonis, the Birth of Bacchus and the Graces and Venus Dancing Before Mars, further evidence of the sculptor’s intense and vital experimentation and the role of the reliefs as a fundamental creative exercise.

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.

Bibliography

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.;
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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