The sculptural work of Antonio Canova is often associated with a quiet and calm style that refers us to the forms of classical antiquity; however, on this occasion the sculptural group that we analyze here breaks the harmony to which Canova has accustomed us with an energetic work in which the terribilitá harvested by Michelangelo is easily recognizable or the tension that years later we will be able to appreciate in some of the works by famous French sculptor Auguste Rodin.
Antonio Canova (1757 – 1822) was a sculptor, although he also made some pictorial works, of Italian origin. His fame crossed the borders of his native Italy and for a long time he was considered one of the most outstanding European sculptors following in the footsteps of great geniuses such as Michelangelo or Bernini himself. Coming from the small town of Possagno, Venice, his training took place in different Venetian workshops and from a very young age he showed great gifts for sculpture, far surpassing
the teachers who were supposed to train him. The study of large collections of classical art was essential for Canova, acquiring in his production the same elegant and naturalistic forms of the classical world.
The work that concerns us here is en titled Hercules and Licas and it is a sculptural group made in a round shape with top quality marble. The work was commissioned in March1795 by the nobleman Gaetani who had been able to observe a group of Venus and Adonis that the Marquis Berio had in his garden. Gaetani was strongly infatuated with the work of his compatriot and wanted a similar group for himself.
The theme chosen for it was one of the favorite stories of classical poets, it tells how Hercules mercilessly throws the young Licas into the air after he had handed him over, unknowingly and instigated by Deianira, a tunic stained with the blood of the centaur Neso that caused him severe pain.
In the work you can see how the demigod, in a moment of rage and maximum pain, arches, tensing all his muscles to throw into the air the young man whose weak constitution barely allows him to put up any kind of resistance. Both figures form a magnificent arch in tension, with a perfect study of human anatomy, especially in the figure of Hercules. Special mention also deserves the face of Licas, with a patent countenance of panic. The young man tries to hold on to a small altar that is located just behind the hero while on the ground we see the skin of the lion, one of the twelve works.
For some time and due to the political events of the time, the sculpture was abandoned for some time by both the artist and its promoter, until finally the commission was acquired by the Italian banker Torlonia in the year 1800 and Canova completed it in 1815.