Carve out time to admire Canova in Rome

Cities in Italy often have their “signature” sculptures

Michelangelo’s towering David, in the Accademia Gallery in Florence, is so beloved it has become an iconic symbol of Italy’s artistic genius. Ask Neapolitans what to see in their city, and one frequent suggestion is the sculpture of Cristo Velato (Veiled Christ), an 18th century masterpiece in the Sansevero Chapel by Giuseppe Sanmartino who worked the marble so expertly, the shroud covering Christ resembles nearly transparent fabric instead of stone.

Rome has so many candidates that multiple favorites compete for the affection for natives and visitors alike. Michelangelo’s Pieta’ in St. Peter’s Basilica is a must-see. So much sculpture adorns the city’s monumental fountains, there seems to be a marvelous piece in nearly every piazza. But one work that is a top contender for a signature sculpture for Rome is Antonio Canova’s Venus Victrix in the Borghese Gallery in Villa Borghese, a popular Rome park just beyond Via Veneto.

In a Carrara marble sculpture that was shocking in its time, Venus bares her breasts — that wasn’t so eyebrow-raising in itself, but the model was Paolina Borghese, Napoleon’s sister. Venus looks so comfortable and so seductive, with one arm propped up on a pair of marble pillows and her other hand clutching an apple as she reclines on a decidedly comfortable painted wooden couch.

While Venus is a rightful star of the Borghese Gallery, the sculptor will have the spotlight for five months in an exhibition entitled ‘’Canova, Eternal Beauty.” Opening on October 9 in the city’s Museo di Roma (Rome museum), the show promises to explore the relationship between the artist and the city where he died in 1822 and where he was inspired to create some of his most noted sculptures at the height of his careers straddling the 18th and 19th centuries.

The exhibition brings together some 170 works by him and his contemporaries. Organizers are promising backdrops for the pieces, and, with clever lighting, will aim to recreate the warm atmosphere that Canova achieved when using torchlight when guests and other admirers would visit his workshop.

On loan for the exhibit which runs until March 15, 2020, are works from the Vatican Museums, Rome’s Capitoline Museums, the Hermitage from Russia, the Correr Museum in Venice and several other Italian museums.

Braschi Palace, which hosts the Rome museum, is a late 18th-century palazzo which was the last palace built in Rome for the family of a pope.

Leaving the palazzo from one of two monumental entrances brings you to Piazza Navona. There, after pondering the works of Canova and his fellow sculptors, you can — admission free — admire a masterpiece of another great sculptor in Rome: Gian Lorenzo Bernini (who also has work in the Borghese Gallery). Artists set up their easels and children scamper up and down the oval-shaped ‘’square’’ that in ancient Roman days hosted chariot races. Bernini’s Four River’s fountain is awe-inspiring