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Museo Canova

Museo - Gipsoteca

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Museo Gipsoteca Canova

The Gypsotheca

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The word “Gypsotheca” comes from old Greek and it means “Plaster Cast Gallery”. Located at the foothills of Mount Grappa, the Gypsotheca of Possagno houses the original models of Antonio Canova’s sculptures.

The bishop Giovanni Battista Sartori (Crespano 1775 – Possagno 1858), Antonio Canova’s brother, decided to build a Gypsotheca in Possagno in order to collect all the works of Antonio Canova which were previously located in his studio in Rome. The works were moved from Rome to Possagno in 1826, four years after the sculptor’s death. Under the supervision of Pietro Stecchini from Bassano, Canova’s plaster works were sectioned and packed in trunks. By means of ox carts, the works were then taken on board in Civitavecchia and travelled by sea to Marghera, where they arrived a couple of weeks later. From Marghera they were transported to Possagno waiting for the construction of a museum for the whole collection.

The arrangement of the plaster works was concieved by Sartori, who wanted to reproduce the layout of Canova’s atelier in Rome. The building was designed with the shape of a basilica by Francesco Lazzari (1791-1871), professor of architecture at the Academy of Fine Arts of Venice.  Its construction began in 1834 and was completed in 1836. The arrangement of the works, carefully curated by the sculptor and first keeper of the Gypsotheca Pasino Tonin, was completed in 1844.

In 1957, Canova’s works found a more appropriate arrangement in the new extension built alongside the Gypsotheca by the Venetian architect Carlo Scarpa (Venice 1906 – Sendai 1978). This new section, naturally illuminated by sunlight coming from above, is visited by thousands of people every year with the aim of studying the materials, the project models and the arrangement of the works designed by Carlo Scarpa. The architect carefully placed Canova’s works in the tall cubic gallery and in the elongated wedge-shaped gallery, at the end of which the sculpture of The Three Graces is positioned.

The aim of this project was to give value to the whole Canovian heritage stored and left unexhibited, and, most of all, to provide an appropriate arrangement for the terracotta sketches. Scarpa managed to arrange Canova’s absolute masterpieces on staggered pedestals, located inside an architectural structure which, in Francesco Dal Co’s words, “allows the light to filter in, so as to provide an astonishing and mutable brilliance.”

“The problem I faced in the arrangement of the Gypsotheca", says Scarpa, "was the light. I had to do with sculptures, not with paintings, and sculptures were neither made of marble nor of wood: they were made of plaster, an amorphous material which is not easily affected by bad weather but also needs light and, therefore, must be placed in the sun. And the sun, moving around the sculpture, will never produce negative effects.”

The current arrangement of the Gypsotheca is the result of an absolute respect for Giovanni Battista Sartori’s initial will, for the changes due to the damages and pre-emptive actions of the two world wars as well for Scarpa’s ability to skilfully enhance the great plaster cast models as well as the clay and terracotta sketches, expression of Canova’s genius. With Stefano Serafin restorations, Scarpa’s expansion and Giulio Carlo Argan and Elena Bassi’s critical contributions, the Museum of Possagno is today a special museographic centre with international significance.