On 11 July 1819 Antonio Canova is in Possagno for the ceremony of laying the first stone of the Temple: the new parish church he had wanted to have erected at his own expense for his native town. It was a solemn event immortalized by Johann Anton Pock in a small painting, kept in Parma in the Magnani Rocca Collection. The sculptor, however, will not have the opportunity to see this work completed, he will die, in fact, in Venice on October 13, 1822. It will be the responsibility of the brother, Monsignor Giovanni Battista Sartori Canova, to complete the construction of the solemn building. The temple will be consecrated only ten years later, in 1832.
“A Temple for Eternity”
11 July – 13 October 2019
Museum Gipsoteca Antonio Canova
Via Canova, 74, 31054 Possagno
In 1833 a volume in Atlantic format, commissioned by the brother of the Sculptor, will be published by the Venetian publisher Giuseppe Antonelli, illustrating and describing the Canovian Temple. An exemplary work with illustrations and a text by Melchior Missirini, one of Canova’s biographers.
Having abandoned the idea of restoring the decadent building of the parish church of the town of Possagno, but above all convinced of the need to leave an indelible mark in his native land, Canova imagines a “historicist” union, associating Greek classicism with Roman practicality. Already convinced that nothing of his art would have been left to his native country, conviction among other things then distorted by the will of his brother, he proceeds quickly, thanks to the studies of aesthetics practiced with the reading of Winckelmann, Mengs, Hamilton, Quatremère de Quincy and Cicognara, towards the winning idea of associating Parthenon and Pantheon, emblems of classical architecture. The designs of the project are made by Pietro Bosio while Giovanni Zardo directs the construction site, tackling every problem related to the demanding construction. The whole community of Possagno, indeed the whole of the Pedemontana is involved in this project. Canova had pointed out that “Minute materials for all walls that did not admit stone or marble would be administered by the Municipality; the coarse sand and the lime, up to the perfection of the building, would be borne by Possagno “. It was up to the Sculptor, on the other hand, to supply materials removed from the territory and to keep a payroll of as many as 250 workers in addition to transport workers and draft animals. Even boys and girls are involved to collaborate, on Sundays and holidays commanded “briskly and joyfully”.
Defined by Missirini as a “Solomonic enterprise”, the building of the monument is carried out, according to the artist’s wishes, with the materials provided by the territory, but thanks to it, roads, wagons, sledges, machines for lifting materials are built.
The Temple represents the synthesis of artistic creativity and the profound religious inspiration of the great sculptor. For Quatremère de Quincy “the Temple is the majestic reliquary of his last religious themed sculptures: prophets, martyrs, apostles and biblical passages”.
Canova’s intent was not only to build a new parish church, but also to place inside it the colossal statue of the Religion, whose model is now displayed in the Gypsotheca classroom. According to the noble aims, manifested in the last years of his life and confirmed on his deathbed, the Temple and the plaster of Religion would have been united together to glorify God.
The reference models were the Parthenon in Athens, the Rotonda of Agrippa in Rome and the temples of Paestum. The overall view of the structure clearly distinguishes these references: first of all, a double series of Doric columns supports an entablature and constitutes the space in front of the round body, with a square base, covered by a hemispherical dome; the pronaos of the temple takes up proportions and perspective devices of the Athenian Parthenon with philological precision; the circular structure and the dome, on the other hand, are derived from the Pantheon. On the entablature the metopes represent episodes from the Old and New Testament: The Creation of the World, The Creation of Adam, Cain and Abel, the Sacrifice of Isaac; The Annunciation, the Visitation and the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple. The original bas-reliefs are, instead, placed inside, between the altars.