Lot 11
  • 11

After a model by Antonio Canova (1757-1822) Italian, late 19th century

80,000 - 120,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Hebe
  • partially gilt white marble, with an associated brass cup and ewer, on a veined white marble column
  • After a model by Antonio Canova (1757-1822) Italian, late 19th century

Catalogue Note

Hebe is among Antonio Canova’s most successful and recognisable models. From its conception in 1795 it was frequently praised for its originality, signifying Canova’s transcendence of the sculptors of antiquity, and became the subject of many sonnets and poems. Canova let Hebe glide from the clouds, pouring the wine she served to the gods. The weightless, rhythmically arranged drapes provide a sense of movement whilst the bared upper body adds to the sensuality of the youthful goddess. No less than four full-size versions were commissioned from Canova by some of the great collectors of the age and further versions were executed after the great sculptor’s death by several members of the workshop.

The prime version of Hebe was commissioned in 1795 by the Venetian count Giuseppe Giacomo Albrizzi, was purchased by King Frederick Wilhelm III of Prussia in 1830, and is today in the Alte Nationalgalerie in Berlin. The beauty of the execution of the marble was instantly recognised, but some early critics commented on the stillness of the figure’s face. Canova was quick to dismiss these comments, arguing that if he had given the goddess a strong expression he would have been criticised by the connoisseurs of beauty as he would have turned the fair Hebe into a bacchante. The majority of critics, however, praised the statue. Specifically the fact that the composition was not based on an antique model but was invented by Canova himself was held in high regard. Canova was thus positioned on the same level as titans of Greek sculpture such as Praxiteles, Phidias and Lysippus.

The second version of Hebe was acquired in 1801 by Josephine de Beauharnais and was exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1808 alongside the Louvre’s celebrated Amor and Psyche. French criticism too consisted mostly of praise: Quatremère de Quincy dubbed it one of the best sculptures of the age. However, the French had some trouble accepting the polychromy of the piece. The gilt ewer and cup borne by the goddess and the colour of the skin, which Canova supposedly differentiated from the drapery using horse’s urine, proved too much of a distraction. In 1815 this Hebe was sold to Russia where it is now among the greatest masterpieces of the Hermitage Museum.

After the debacle in Paris, Canova adapted the positioning of the feet and the base of Hebe. The clouds from which Hebe descends in the first two versions were replaced by a tree trunk and the drapery scheme was altered. The third version from 1808, which has been at Chatsworth House since about 1810, is therefore distinctly different from the present version. The fourth Hebe by Canova was carved for Countess Veronica Guarini di Forli in 1816/1817 and is now at that city’s Pinacoteca Civica. This is the statue on which Canova introduced the gilt necklace and diadem. The present sculpture unusually combines the clouds of the first two versions, which were both abroad by 1830, and the fourth version, which was supplied to the Countess of Forli in 1817 and never left Italy. This suggests that the sculptor of the present figure was possibly active between 1817 and 1830. The rectangular base with the concave podium is not a feature of any of Canova’s models.

G.C. Argan, Canova all’Ermitage. Le sculture del museo di San Pietroburgo, exh. cat. Palazzo Ruspoli, Rome, 1992, pp. 92-94; O. Stefani, Antonio Canova. La statuaria, Milan, 1999, pp. 84-88, no. 7