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A Wingless Angel Comes to Light


A plaster copy of one of the 18th-century Italian sculptor Antonio Canova’s works will go on public view on Oct. 28 at the Tefaf New York show at the Park Avenue Armory.

Nicholas Knight

The 18th-century Italian sculptor Antonio Canova made only a few plaster copies of his marble statues, as gifts for friends and patrons. One of the plaster works, which had ended up largely forgotten at a villa near Florence, will go on public view on Oct. 28 at the Tefaf New York show at the Park Avenue Armory. Trinity Fine Art, a London gallery, has priced it at $4 million.

It represents a wingless angel, about five feet tall, pressing one hand to a brow in a gesture of grief. The original marble version, which has wings, was carved around 1790 as part of a monument to Pope Clement XIII at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Canova cast the plaster copy for his patron Girolamo Zulian, a Venetian ambassador in Rome.

The Milan-based dealer Carlo Orsi, who runs Trinity Fine Art, found the sculpture in a villa belonging to descendants of a count in Padua who was a close friend of both Canova and Zulian. Faint air bubbles are still visible on the plaster surface, along with ridges from the plaster molds.

Another plaster version of the angel survives at the Canova Museum in Possagno, Italy, with most of its arms missing — it was badly damaged during World War I.

Fernando Mazzocca, an art historian at the University of Milan who specializes in Canova, said that plaster sculptures like the wingless angel are “quite rare.” He added, “They were made with special attention and care, to give them to people for whom he had particular reasons for gratitude.”

Correction: October 11, 2017

An earlier version of this article misstated the location of Trinity Fine Art. It is in London, not Milan.

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