The present bust closely follows one of Canova’s Ideal Heads (Teste Ideali) which was gifted by the sculptor to Sir Charles Long, Paymaster General in 1818 (Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, inv. no. AP 1981.13). Together with Viscount Castlereagh, William Hamilton and the Duke of Wellington, Long had been instrumental in garnering support amongst the Great Powers for the return of artworks taken from Rome by Napoleon’s armies and installed in the Louvre. Canova had been sent to Paris in 1815 by Pope Pius VII as the figurehead of a delegation to secure the restitution. However, it was also a personal mission for Canova, who regarded Italy as ‘the country and native soil of the arts’ (Memes, op. cit., pp. 468-478). Ideal Heads were also given to Wellington (Head of Dancer), Castlereagh (Bust of Helen, National Trust, Mountstewart) and William Hamilton (Ideal Head, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, inv. no. WA1996.395). A further head, the Bust of Peace, was given to Canova’s earliest British patron, Lord Cawdor, in 1814 and sold in these rooms on 4 July 2018, lot 25.
The Ideal Head given to Long, and so beautifully enshrined in the present marble, ultimately derives from the Head of the Seated Muse Polymnia (1809). As with all of Canova’s Ideal Heads, it is distinguished by the elegant hairstyle with its virtuoso-carved proliferation of curls and ringlets. According to Moses, the hair is a nod to contemporary fashions as it betrays ‘all the softness and luxuriant elegance of the Parisian headdress’ (op. cit., p. 281). On receipt of his head, in October 1818, Long wrote to Canova: ‘I will not wait any longer to thank you for the gift that you kindly sent to me - she is all grace and elegance - all the connoisseurs greatly admire it, and find it among the prettiest of your works. I do not know quite how to thank you for having destined this work for me but I beg you to know that there is no person who better appreciates it.’ (as quoted in Eustace, op. cit., p. 82).
The present marble embodies the perfection of Canova’s model. It is carved with the virtuosity one would expect from one of Canova’s leading disciples, and is preserved in near-perfect condition. Baruzzi went on to develop a significant career for himself, despite the headwinds of changing fashions, as the Neoclassical style was surplanted by Romanticism. He gained commissions from the leading Lombard patrons of the time and was described by the critic Carlo Tenca as ‘the sculptor of grace’ (Cottignoli, op. cit., p. 5).
Canova and the Teste Ideali
Canova developed the concept of Ideal Heads (Teste Ideali) with the specific purpose of gifting them to friends and patrons who had helped him in particular ways. He gave his first such bust, the Helen, conceived in 1811, to Countess Isabella Teotochi Albrizzi in 1812 (Palazzo Albrizzi, Venice), and another, the Clio, also executed 1811, to the Luise Stolberg, Countess of Albany, who had commissioned Canova to execute the tomb of the poet Vittorio Alfieri (Musée Fabre, Montpellier). The Canova authority Hugh Honour has noted that, ‘None of them were commissioned - most unusually for Canova - and he took advantage of the opportunity to escape from the restrictions of portraiture or of mythological and historical subject-matter to realise his elusive aesthetic ideal’ (Honour, 1995, op. cit.).
The Ideal Heads enshrine Canova’s idea of facial perfection: informed by nature, but removed from the idiosyncrasies of portraiture, and guided by Classical principles. Carved in a state of amore caldissimo, the Ideal Heads transcend the corporeal and present a vision of universal beauty inspired by Canova’s unique genius. The Ideal Heads can be broadly divided into three main subjects: mythological (including: Helen; A Vestal; the Muses Clio, Callipe and Erato); historical or literary figures (including: Lucrezia d’Este; Laura; Beatrice; Sappho); and personifications (including: Peace; Gratitude; Philosophy). A fourth group exists of busts lacking identities.
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