It usually happens with most of the works of art that we consider today to be of great artistic value that, at the time, when they were created, did not obtain the recognition they deserved; however, on a few occasions the artists managed to create pieces so impressive that they showed their excellence even among their peers. The work that we analyze here is a neoclassical sculpture that, due to its formal perfection, was greatly admired in its own time, the piece is none other than Mercury with the head of Medusa made by Antonio Canova.
Canova (1757 – 1822) is without a doubt one of the most outstanding figures in statuary of all times; the formal perfection of his pieces has placed him at the height of the great sculptors of all time such as Michelangelo or even Bernini. He is, without a doubt, the most important neoclassical sculptor in all of Europe and his work had a powerful influence on the sculptural conception of the time. Canova worked for some of the most important people of his time.
The Perseus with the Head of Medusa or Perseus Triumphant as it is also known, was made between 1800 and early 1801 as a commission for Onorato Duveyriez. It is a sculpture larger than life size and with a round shape made of marble. Its owner gave the piece to the Cisalpine Republic as a tribute and years later the work was bought by Pope Pius VII toplace it on the same pedestal that had been occupied by the Apolo Belvedere that was requisitioned by the French troops; for this reason Canova's Perseus was also known by the nickname of El Consolador.
In fact, it seems that the artistmay have been inspired by the sculpture of Apolloto make his Perseus. We find the hero almost naked, only dressed in the winged sandals of Mercury, the helmet of Hades to make himself invisible, an adamantium sickle and a cape that hangs from his arm. While holding the Gorgon's head with one hand victoriously, he lowers the sword with the other hand, ending the battle.
In the piece there is a slight contrapposto that refers to the patterns of classical antiquity, formally the piece is precise and clean, with great success on the part of the artist when making the composition. Just a few years later, between 1804 and 1806, the artist created a second version of the piece commissioned by Countess Valeria Tarnowska that is now on display at the Metropolitan Museum in New York.