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Canova: Sketching in Clay

Past Exhibition

June 11 – October 9, 2023
West Building, Main Floor, Galleries 74, 75, 76, 79

How does a sculptor turn an initial idea into a finished work of marble? For Antonio Canova (1757–1822), the most famous artist of Europe’s revolutionary period, the answer was with clay.

Working with his hands and small tools, Canova produced dazzling sketch models in clay, which helped him plan his designs for his large statues in marble. Imprinted with the fire of his imagination, these sketches were boldly executed in mere minutes. Canova also made more finished models, sensuous in their details, that he showed to patrons or used as guides for carving.

More than 30 of his some 60 or so surviving models reveal the artist’s extraordinary working process—a process that led to the creation of some of the most iconic works in the history of sculpture.

Explore Selected Works

Learn More About Canova


The exhibition is organized by the National Gallery of Art, Washington, and the Art Institute of Chicago.

The exhibition is curated by C. D. Dickerson III, senior curator of European and American art, National Gallery of Art, and Emerson Bowyer, Searle Curator, Painting and Sculpture of Europe, the Art Institute of Chicago.

Other venues
The Art Institute of Chicago, November 19, 2023–March 18, 2024

Major support is provided by the Annenberg Fund for the International Exchange of Art.

Additional support is provided by the Embassy of Italy.

Under the patronage of the National Committee for the Celebration of the Bicentenary of the Death of Antonio Canova, Ministry of Culture, Rome.

Admission is always free and passes are not required

Banner detail: Antonio Canova, Adam and Eve Mourning the Dead Abel, c. 1818–1822, terracotta, Museo Gypsotheca Antonio Canova, Possagno, Italy. Photographed by Luigi Spina