An Ideal Head

Antonio Canova (1757-1822)

Presented to the 1st Duke of Wellington by the sculptor Canova, this bust arrived in England in 1818. This is one of four made by Canova for the leading British statesmen involved in the restitution of Italian art works after the Battle of Waterloo.

The four ‘ideal heads’ as they were called epitomised female beauty. Taking his inspiration from the great classical busts of antiquity, Canova created four ‘ideal’ forms of female beauty.

The other busts were given to, Robert Stewart, Viscount Castlereagh (now at Mount Stewart, National Trust), Sir Charles Long, 1st Baron Farnborough (Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, Texas), Sir William Hamilton (Ashmolean Museum, Oxford).

The Apsley House bust is unique in that there are no other versions, however it does resemble the head of Canova’s ‘Dancer with her hands on her hips’ commissioned by Napoleon’s wife Josephine.

The Empress Josephine’s statue later became the property of Tsar Alexander I and is now in the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg.

Antonio Canova was considered the greatest neo-classical sculptor of his day. He was renowned for his carving abilities and the refinement of his finished surfaces.