Considered the archetype of neoclassical sculpture, the work of Italian painter and sculptor Antonio Canova (1757-1822) includes various statues inspired by mythological themes, alongside busts, cenotaphs and statues. Born into a family of stonecutters, Canova learned to master the art of marble cutting from an early age, and soon became known for the delicacy of his sculptures. Fascinated by ancient art, within his work the artist manages to combine imitation of nature with the ideal beauties of past centuries.

Throughout his career, Canova was able to translate and express feelings and actions in a balanced way, without ever falling into exaggeration. His unique know-how echoes the concept of the ‘ideal’ raised by aesthetic theorist Joachim Winckelmann, according to which the ‘Beautiful Ideal’ contained the idea of ​​’noble simplicity and serene grandeur’, refusing the excess of forms that could alter and disfigure features of the face. This perfection, according to him, was distinguished only in ancient Greek sculptures.

"I read that the ancients, after producing a sound, used to modulate it by raising and lowering its tone without ever falling away from the rules of harmony. This is how the artist must proceed." – Antonio Canova

Antonio Canova, ‘Self-portrait’, 1792 Antonio Canova, ‘Self-portrait’, 1792

Canova would have drawn the typology of his ‘ideal heads’ from the female portraits of the Napoleonic era, where the figure of the woman is divinised, and where feminine beauty is expressed in the subtle variations of forms and expressions. According to the author and friend of the artist Mr Missirini, "when he fell on some beautiful appearance, [Canova] made a clear memory of it, then, transferring it by the imagination, represented some of his busts and heads which you would have really say had a kind of intelligence.”

The Bust of Lucrezia d'Este, which is part of Canova's series of ‘ideal heads’, presents a face with Greek features reminiscent of those of ancient sculptures: a hairstyle elaborated in tight braids around the skull and temples adorned with falling curls, representing the height of virtuosity. The artist plays on the shape of the face – the shadows of the eyes, the nose, and the lips – to create isolated shadows and to avoid overlays, thus giving maximum light to the portrait. True manifestation of the ease with which Canova managed to embellish the faces and to give them spirituality and divinity, the work brings back to life the beauty of the famous woman, a lover of arts and society, a descendant of Alphonse I of Este and Lucretia Borgia, and daughter of Hercules II d'Este and Renee de France.

At over thirty years old, Lucrezia retained the beauty of her adolescence and inspired the praises of the many ambassadors who crossed her path. Her marriage to the Duke of Urbino, François Marie II della Rovere, proclaimed in February 1570, was tormented and devoid of happiness however, especially because of their age difference. Her husband, much younger than her, did not appreciate her qualities, which he found annoying, and complained incessantly of his situation with members of the court, and meanwhile courted other women outrageously. Although Lucrezia did not forbid him from having mistresses, she did not tolerate Francois Marie's disrespectful and boorish attitude.

Attributed to Federico Zuccari, ‘Portrait of Lucretia d'Este’, 1535-98 Attributed to Federico Zuccari, ‘Portrait of Lucretia d'Este’, 1535-98

The young woman, meanwhile, maintained extramarital relations with Count Ercole Contrari (executed under the command of Alfonso II, the brother of Lucrezia), then with Count Luigi Montecoccoli, which led to the separation of the couple in 1578.

The owner of the bust, Alexander Baring, was the second child of Sir Francis and Harriet Baring, and the grandson of John Baring, who emigrated from Germany to England in the early nineteenth century. A major player in Baring Brothers & Co., Alexander became Chancellor of the Wellington Department and then Baron of Ashburton in the 1830s.

With a great interest in artistic culture, Baring received a bust of Napoleon by Antonio Canova as a gift from the French minister. Baring’s prestigious collection of Dutch, Flemish, Spanish and Italian paintings also included several marble sculptures acquired during a trip to Rome. In addition to the Bust of Lucrezia D'Este, Baring owned three other works by Antonio Canova. His collection, put on sale in 1934, was dismantled and many works were auctioned.

The Monte-Carlo Auction House has the pleasure of presenting the remarkable bust of Lucrezia D'Este for sale on 27 April, amongst a sale of furniture, art objects, and paintings from the early 19th century.

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