Inventory Numbers: 968-970
These two wonderful and powerful statues of pugilists, created by Antonio Canova, are featured alongside the statue of Perseus in one of the most important locations of the Vatican Museums: the Octagonal Courtyard. The most important statues of the Vatican’s collection are on display for the public here every day. Historically, the Octagonal Courtyard was the first place chosen by Pope Julius II to host his collection of Classical Antiquities.
At the end of the 1700s, Canova decided to work on two statues inspired by classical models from ancient times. Thus, between 1794 and the following year he completed the statues of two boxers inspired by a story titled the Periegesis of Greece written by Greek traveller Pausanias.
Shown here are the two pugilists, named Creugas of Durres and Damoxenos of Syracuse, who met during the Nemean Games. According to legend, the two were so evenly matched that the competition lasted for hours without a decision. When there was no foreseeable end, both men agreed to take a single, undefended blow from the other. Creugas delivered the first punch, striking Damoxenos on the head. Damoxenos, struck Creugas on the side and tore out his intestines. The Argives disqualified Damoxenos, for killing his opponent and Creugas was posthumously declared the winner.
In 1795, Canova began working on the preparatory drawings of these subjects for sculptures. A year later, in 1796, both models were ready. The following year, Canova began the marble statue of Creugas, which was completed in 1801. In 1802, the two statues, along with the Perseus, were purchased by Pope Pius VII. Three years later, Canova developed a second model for the Damoxenos.
The Pope purchased Canova’s statues in an effort to replenish the Vatican Museums that suffered heavy losses during the French occupation. Many of the masterpieces from the Vatican Collection had been taken to France in 1798. Pius VII’s act of purchasing these statues was very important at the time, because it proudly reaffirmed a policy of national prerogatives, despite the robbery of those treasures inextricably linked to Rome. These pieces are expected to be returned on display in the Octagonal Courtyard.