This evocative bust is likely to be an original plaster commissioned by Antonio Canova from Vincenzo Malpieri (a trusted associate and plaster caster). Such plasters are rare. The basis for the Malpieri attribution is the hand modelled appearance of the bust, particularly at the reverse, with its open back with wood support. The open back is comparable with the autograph plaster Bust of Caroline Murat
recently with Robilant and Voena, which had an unbroken provenance from Murat. Moreover, the inscription to the reverse of the present bust is near-identical to that on a Bust of Paris
with Tomasso Brothers Fine Art in 2017, which has been catalogued as by Antonio Canova and cast by Vincenzo Malpieri (Tomasso, op. cit.
, no. 8). The Bust of Paris
is inscribed: ANT . CANOVA . F . A . 1812 (Paris)
. The inscription strongly indicates that the present bust and the Paris
were cast by the same hand, possibly at the same time. The Paris
is paired with a Helen
and the two may be in the casts mentioned in Canova's ledger in October 1813 documenting payment to Malpieri for a number of plasters including a Paris
The present bust was probably cast from a mould taken directly from Canova's 1812 marble Bust of Calliope in the Palazzo Pitti, which is inscribed: ANT. CANOVA F. A. 1812 (46cm). The original pointed plaster version of the bust, used in the process of carving the marble, is at Possagno. Consistent with Canova's studio practice, the present plaster would have been cast from the finished marble. The Calliope was commissioned by Canova's biographer Giovanni Rosini in 1808. It is a variant of the earlier bust of Clio gifted by the artist to the countess of Albany in 1811, and now in the musée Fabre in Montpellier.
M. Praz and G. Pavanello, L'opera completa del Canova, Milan, pp. 121-122, nos. 235, 237-8; K. Eustace, Canova: Ideal Heads, exh. cat. Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, 1997, p. 77