Perpetual Prince

by Danilo Brunetti

A new exhibit celebrates the great Canova at the very academy where he taught. Tiffany Parks shares a preview.

Antonio Canova is widely considered not only the greatest neoclassical sculptor, but the greatest neoclassical artist full stop, ushering in a new aesthetic of clear, regularized form and calm repose in art, inspired by classical antiquities.To coincide with the recent 200th anniversary of his death in October 1822, the National Academy of St. Luke has dedicated an exhibition to the artist to celebrate his lifetime of work and explore the indissoluble bond he had with the academy itself.

In some of the most exquisite rooms of Renaissance Palazzo Carpegna, site of Rome’s art academy par excellence, Canova: The Last Prince is divided into eight sections that retrace the final two decades of Canova’s career, from his entry into the Academy in 1800 to his death in 1822. The sections explore such topics as his relationship with the Academy, the competitions he established for the talented young artists he taught, his contemporaries, in particular Bertel Throrvaldsen, and—perhaps most intriguing—his role in the restoration of Rome’s ancient monuments and the recovery and return to Italy of the works of art requisitioned in by Napoleon.


The “prince” in the exhibit’s name refers to the honorary title the Academy bestowed upon Cavona in 1800, which was eventually elevated to “Perpetual Prince” in 1814. Canova gave the institution a new direction, which involved all cultural sectors, from the reform of artistic teaching, to the excavation, restoration, and protection of ancient monuments, the promotion of contemporary art, and the urban reorganization of Rome. Canova would go on to become Inspector General of Antiquities of the Papal State and Superintendent of the Vatican Museums and the Capitoline Hill, and as such, he was instrumental in shaping the artistic landscape of Rome at the turn of the 19th century. Find more information at