Old Master Sculpture & Early Jewels

Old Master Sculpture & Early Jewels

View full screen - View 1 of Lot 88. After Antonio Canova (1757-1822) | Italian, circa 1830 | Pair of Busts of Paris and Helen.

After Antonio Canova (1757-1822) | Italian, circa 1830 | Pair of Busts of Paris and Helen

Lot Closed

December 7, 04:28 PM GMT


60,000 - 80,000 GBP

Lot Details


After Antonio Canova (1757-1822)

Italian, circa 1830

Pair of Busts of Paris and Helen

white marble, on serpentine and black marble socles, and serpentine and white marble columns

the Paris bust with two labels inscribed: 5185; one of the columns with a label inscribed: 35

busts and socles: 71cm., 28in. and 65cm., 25½in.

columns: 120cm., 47in.

These impressive busts follow the celebrated models by the great Italian Neoclassical sculptor Antonio Canova. The quality of the carving of the present busts is high and, together with their beautiful surface polish, indicates that the busts were executed in the 1820s or 1830s, shortly after Canova’s death. Rome was an important centre of marble carving during this period, with Thorvaldsen’s studio being a magnet for talented carvers, many of whom would become significant sculptors in their own right. The present busts are quintessential Canova models, and are arguably close to the sculptors workshop output.

The prime version of Canova’s Helen was executed in 1811 and gifted by the sculptor to his friend and biographer Isabella Teotochi Albrizzi (it remains in the Palazzo Albrizzi in Venice). Further versions exist at Mount Stewart, Northern Ireland, and in the Victoria and Albert Museum.


The bust is the first of the sculptor’s famous Testi ideali (Ideal Heads). Canova’s Ideal Heads enshrine the sculptor’s idea of facial perfection. Informed by nature, they are 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.

Canova’s Helen was subject of Byron’s poem ‘On the Bust of Helen by Canova’:

'In this beloved marble view

Above the works and thoughts of Man,

What Nature could but would not, do,

And Beauty and Canova can!

Beyond Imagination’s power,

Beyond the Bard’s defeated art,

With Immortality her dower,

Behold the Helen of the heart'.

The Paris was first conceived in 1809. The prime version, which was originally gifted by Canova to Antoine Quatremère de Quincy, is in the Art Institute of Chicago. It derives from the full length statue made for Empress Josephine of France in the State Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg.


I. Wardropper, and T.F. Rowlands, ‘Antonio Canova and Quatremère de Quincy: The gift of friendship’. Art Institute of Chicago Museum Studies, 1989, pp. 39-86; G. Cunial and M. Pavan, Antonio Canova: Museum and Gipsoteca, Museo e Gipsoteca Antonio Canova, 2011, pp. 140-145; K. Eustace, Canova: Ideal Heads; [published by the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford to Coincide with the Exhibition of Ideal Heads in the Chambers Hall Gallery, Ashmolean Museum 11 July-14 September 1997]. Ashmolean Museum, 1997, pp. 84-85.