A very fine Carrara marble statue of Cleopatra after the antique version in the Vatican Rome, signed A. Canova, the Egyptian Queen reclining on a couch, her head to the left resting on her right hand, her left arm resting on her head, wearing an serpent-shaped bracelet on her upper right arm, diaphanous drapery and open-toed sandals
Italian, late 18th Century early 19th Century
Height 59 cm, length 82 cm, depth 25 cm.
This wonderful marble is a mirror copy of the famous second century BC statue of the Cleopatra, in the Vatican Rome. The antique statue, also considered by some to represent the sleeping Ariadne, inspired writers, artists and connoisseurs and was copied in various media throughout the centuries. The Cleopatra was first recorded in February 1512 as having recently been acquired by Pope Julius II from Angelo Maffei and taken to the Belvedere. By August that year it was in a corner of the statue court, where it was installed as a fountain on an antique marble sarcophagus. On the advice of the writer Vasari, the Cleopatra was taken during the early 1550's to a room adjoining the courtyard and again set up as a fountain in a niche to form a visual climax to a long corridor. By 1704 Pope Clement XI had voiced his concern about it being damaged by the flow of water and expressed his intention to move it. However travellers and guidebooks of the later eighteenth century continued to describe the Cleopatra as a fountain, though there are some indications that the water was turned off. With the creation of the Museo Pio-Clementino the statue was given a new setting at the end of the Galleria delle Statue where it was flanked by two columns of giallo antico and placed on a sarcophagus with a relief of fighting Titans.
In 1797 the French took the Cleopatra , under the terms of the Treaty of Tolentino. The marble statue reached Paris in the triumphal procession of July I798 and was displayed in the Musée Central des Arts for its inauguration in November 1800. Following the fall of the French Empire it was removed in October 1815 and must have arrived back in Rome in the first consignment of statues in January l8l6, as it was in the Museo Pio-Clementino by the end of May that year. Its dignity at the end of the Vatican Gallerie delle Statue was soon to be further enhanced by the placing of the celebrated Barberini candelabra on each side of the flanking columns.
Though the Vatican Cleopatra was the better known, there was another version, which stood in the Medici Villa gardens until 1787 and is now in the Museo Archeologico in Florence. For many years connoisseurs considered this version to be of superior quality until it was totally discredited after the historian, archaeologist and key figure in the Neo-classical movement, Johann Wincklemann (1717-68) dismissed the head as modern. Largely for this reason most known copies ultimately derive from the Vatican Cleopatra.
Isabella d'Este owned a small marble copy set above a cupboard in her 'Grotta'. The Italian artist, architect and decorator Francesco Primaticcio had a bronze cast for François I, in which the reclining pose was greatly exaggerated and also featured other changes (which as late as the nineteenth century was used as the basis for a number of further casts). A plaster cast was made for Philip IV of Spain, while two marble copies were carved for Louis XIV, one by Jean-Baptiste Goy in Rome, and the other, of 1684-5, by Corneille van Cleve (still at Versailles). Nicolas Poussin made a small wax copy (now in the Louvre) which, according to tradition, he gave to his friend and admirer Chantelou. During the eighteenth century the Italian bronze manufacturers Zoffoli and Righetti offered bronze statuette copies. Two English sculptors, Enoch Wood and Nathaniel Marchant, who carved it on a sard intaglio as well as the French bronzier, André-Antoine Ravrio (1759-1814) who reproduced it as a clock case were among many others who made copies in various media.
Given the quality of carving of the present statue, it is little wonder that a past artist thought it appropriate to add the name of Antonio Canova (1757-1822), one of history's most important artists and the greatest Neo-classical sculptor. However Canova tended to work in pure white marble and is not recorded having made a copy after the Cleopatra, though he was commissioned by the King Ludovico I to make a replica marble of the Medici Venus to replace the antique version seized by the French in 1802. The outcome was Canova's exquisite Venus Italica of which he went on to make two other versions.
So great was Canova's art, that from the 1790's until his death he set a standard and fashion which all aspired and subsequently copied. Born in Possagno, near Venice he was raised and later worked with his grandfather who was a sculptor and then served an apprenticeship with another local sculptor. By 1779 he was converted to Neo-classical theory which was confirmed by his visits to see the antiquities at Rome and Naples in 1780. He settled in Rome in 1782 and from then on won the admiration of all the most important patrons throughout Europe, Russia, and America including the Pope, the Emperor Napoleon, George III of England, Catherine the Great of Russia and others. The world's finest collections are proud to own his work; they include the Hermitage St Petersburg, the British Royal Collection, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the Louvre in Paris and many other museums in Venice, Padua, Naples, Munich, Vienna and elsewhere. Canova's official appointments were numerous; he became President of the Accademia di San Luca, he was appointed a Cavaliere by the Pope and received a knighthood from the Emperor of Austria. He was also invited to settle in Russia by Catherine the Great, in Paris by Napoleon and in Vienna by Francis II, but maintained that he could only work in Rome.
Over the centuries, sculptors have made copies of the greatest antique marbles, of which the Cleopatra was one. A number of copies were made in marble, either exact replicas or as here as a mirror image of the original pose. In either instance, when the quality is good, these replicas have themselves become collectors' items and are now very much sought after.