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The Triumph Of Canova
by [?]

The Villa d’Asola, the country residence of the Signor Falieri, was in a state of unusual excitement. Some of the most distinguished patricians of Venice had been bidden to a great banquet, which was to surpass in magnificence any entertainment ever before given, even by the wealthy and hospitable Signer Falieri.

The feast was ready, the guests were assembled, when word came from the confectioner, who had been charged to prepare the center ornament for the table, that he had spoiled the piece. Consternation reigned in the servants’ hall. What was to be done? The steward, or head servant, was in despair. He was responsible for the table decorations, and the absence of the centerpiece would seriously mar the arrangements. He wrung his hands and gesticulated wildly. What should he do!

“If you will let me try, I think I can make something that will do.” The speaker was a delicate, pale-faced boy, about twelve years old, who had been engaged to help in some of the minor details of preparation for the great event. “You!” exclaimed the steward, gazing in amazement at the modest, yet apparently audacious lad before him. “And who are you?” “I am Antonio Canova, the grandson of Pisano, the stonecutter.” Desperately grasping at even the most forlorn hope, the perplexed servant gave the boy permission to try his hand at making a centerpiece.

Calling for some butter, with nimble fingers and the skill of a practiced sculptor, in a short time the little scullion molded the figure of a crouching lion. So perfect in proportion, so spirited and full of life in every detail, was this marvelous butter lion that it elicited a chorus of admiration from the delighted guests, who were eager to know who the great sculptor was who had deigned to expend his genius on such perishable material. Signor Falieri, unable to gratify their curiosity, sent for his head servant, who gave them the history of the centerpiece. Antonio was immediately summoned to the banquet hall, where he blushingly received the praises and congratulations of all present, and the promise of Signer Falieri to become his patron, and thus enable him to achieve fame as a sculptor.

Such, according to some biographers, was the turning point in the career of Antonio Canova, who, from a peasant lad, born in the little Venetian village of Possagno, rose to be the most illustrious sculptor of his age.

Whether or not the story be true, it is certain that when the boy was in his thirteenth year, Signer Falieri placed him in the studio of Toretto, a Venetian sculptor, then living near Asola. But it is equally certain that the fame which crowned Canova’s manhood, the title of Marquis of Ischia, the decorations and honors so liberally bestowed upon him by the ruler of the Vatican, kings, princes, and emperors, were all the fruits of his ceaseless industry, high ideals, and unfailing enthusiasm.

The little Antonio began to draw almost as soon as he could hold a pencil, and the gown of the dear old grandmother who so tenderly loved him, and was so tenderly loved in return, often bore the marks of baby fingers fresh from modeling in clay.

Antonio’s father having died when the child was but three years old, his grandfather, Pisano, hoped that he would succeed him as village stonecutter and sculptor. Delicate though the little fellow had beenA from birth, at nine years of age he was laboring, as far as his strength would permit, in Pisano’s workshop. But in the evening, after the work of the day was done, with pencil or clay he tried to give expression to the poetic fancies he had imbibed from the ballads and legends of his native hills, crooned to him in infancy by his grandmother.

Under Toretto his genius developed so rapidly that the sculptor spoke of one of his creations as “a truly marvelous production.” He was then only thirteen. Later we find him in Venice, studying and working with ever increasing zeal. Though Signor Falieri would have been only too glad to supply the youth’s needs, he was too proud to be dependent on others. Speaking of this time, he says: “I labored for a mere pittance, but it was sufficient. It was the fruit of my own resolution, and, as I then flattered myself, the foretaste of more honorable rewards, for I never thought of wealth.”

Too poor to hire a workshop or studio, through the kindness of the monks of St. Stefano, he was given a cell in a vacant monastery, and here, at the age of sixteen, he started business as a sculptor on his own account.

Before he was twenty, the youth had become a master of anatomy, which he declared was “the secret of the art,” was thoroughly versed in literature, languages, history, poetry, mythology,–everything that could help to make him the greatest sculptor of his age,–and had, even then, produced works of surpassing merit.

Effort to do better was the motto of his life, and he never permitted a day to pass without making some advance in his profession. Though often too poor to buy the marble in which to embody his conceptions, he for many years lived up to a resolution made about this time, never to close his eyes at night without having produced some design.

What wonder that at twenty-five this noble youth, whose incessant toil had perfected genius, was the marvel of his age! What wonder that his famous group, Theseus vanquishing the Minotaur, elicited the enthusiastic admiration of the most noted art critics of Rome! What wonder that the little peasant boy, who had first opened his eyes, in 1757, in a mud cabin, closed them at last, in 1822, in a marble palace, crowned with all of fame and honor and wealth the world could give! But better still, he was loved and enshrined in the hearts of the people, as a friend of the poor, a patron of struggling merit, a man in whom nobility of character overtopped even the genius of the artist.