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Mors Adonidis. Etching and stipple engraving. 51.5 x 79.3 cm. 1800. Heller-Andresen 2.
Antonio Canova was the first artist to make a regular practice of having his sculptures reproduced in prints, not only to boost his fame, but also out of a desire to win broad acceptance for the artistic ideals of Neoclassicism. The engravers in question were mostly selected by the artist himself so as to ensure a high artistic standard. Canova proceeded with extreme care and left nothing to chance to make sure that the engraved reproductions after his sculptures corresponded as closely as possible to his own artistic ideas.
One of the best engravers to work for Canova was undoubtedly Giovanni Martino de’ Boni, who had been closely associated with the artist since receiving his own artistic training in Venice. A charming engraved portrait by Vincenzo Giaconi from the year 1796 shows the two artists in friendly embrace. The breathtaking virtuosity of de’ Boni’s burin technique proved to be exactly the right tool to translate the refined treatment of surfaces and the subtle light effects of Canova’s relief art into the medium of printmaking. The present engraving Death of Adonis, which reproduces a relief by Canova of 1797 (now in the Gipsoteca, Possagno), is an extremely convincing and rare testimony to the successful collaboration between sculptor and engraver. Although the print, done in Rome in 1800, was described by Heller-Andresen, it is not included in the catalogue of prints after Canova by Grazia Pezzini Bernini and Fabio Fiorani (Canova e l’incisione, Roma-Bassano del Grappa 1993/4). A simple border articulated by dense crossand parallel-hatching frames the relief. De Boni’s stipple technique produces incredibly smooth transitions, making the scene appear in a soft light. Details such as the pleated tunic of Venus, the elaborately dressed hair of the graces and nymphs, the subtly rendered flesh tones as well as the differentiated treatment of fabrics, foliage and vegetation… everything appears highly natural and almost tangible. The firm, bright white wove paper highlights the sharpness of the engraved lines and the deep black of the printing ink.
A brilliant, contrasting and harmonious impression with full margins. Minimal aging, otherwise in excellent condition.