Paulina Borghese, Antonio Canova

Paulina Borghese, Antonio Canova
Paulina Borghese, Antonio Canova

This marble sculpture is the work of the famous sculptor Antonio Canova (1757-1822). Canova is one of the leading representatives of neoclassicism in the sculptural environment of the late 18th and early 19th centuries and, together with Jaques Louis David, one of the artists who best represents neoclassicist postulates by imitating the perfection of Greco-Roman aesthetics without falling into academic or overly simple terms. Canova combines in his sculptures like no one else the beauty of the classical forms applied to the most varied themes and forms, which is why during his lifetime he had many commissions and was compared to great geniuses such as Michelangelo or Bernini.


The fame that the sculptor was reaping made it possible for him to make numerous sculptures for the emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, including this one of his little sister, the emperor's favourite, Paulina Borghese or Paulina Bonaparte.

The young woman has been represented following the models of the Victorious Venuses of classical antiquity: reclining on an armchair Napoleon's sister supports her head with her hand while the other rests on his leg, this same position was used on numerous occasions by artists to represent the goddess of love, for example Boticelli in his work Venus and Mars. It seems that the beauty and reputation of her lady made many in her day consider her a truegoddess of love.

Naked from the waist up, a thin cloth falls down the back of the chair and wraps around her legs, covering her nakedness. Her hair is gathered in a messy ponytail and only a bracelet adorns her beautiful body. In the hand resting on her leg, an apple refers to the myth of Paris and the beauty of Venus.

Although it is true that Paulina Borghese was only twenty-five years old at the time Canova painted her, the skill of her teacher makes her take on a verymature and sensual demeanor; her lost gaze further accentuates the feeling of relaxation and beauty that the emperor's sister transmits.

The work was made in a round package and has a triangular and balanced composition. With great care, the sculptural ensemble is a sample of movement in action, it seems as if the viewer could observe this victorious Venus while she turns her head in a distracted and thoughtful way.

The work, carved entirely in marble, acquires a high quality in the representation of the materials, highlighting the representation of the divan on which the young woman appears reclining as well as the cloth that covers her nudity. The light shines brightly and regularly throughout the composition, moving away from the chiaroscuro and shadows that encourage drama. In Paulina's sculpture everything is harmony and balance.

Although this sculpture was commissioned by Paulina's husband, Camillo Borghese, the sensuality and beauty that the work gave offde Canova made him show this exceptional representation of his wife to the public on rare occasions.

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