This April, our friends from the lush Northwest U.S. came to visit and had an experience they will never forget. The beautiful springtime of Rome was the perfect backdrop for the unveiling of Perseus and a spiritual and cultural connection that can only be found here in the Vatican.
Also, while they were here, the NW Chapter members were also able to witness the fruits of their donations. Together we celebrated the unveiling of a spectacular Perseus statue, which their support helped restore. Vatican Museums director Antonio Paolucci thanked the Northwest Chapter in the Octagonal Courtyard saying that, “ The Northwest is a new chapter, but a very lively one.” And he praised their devotion to the Perseus.
The statue is a particularly glorious piece made by one of the masters of Italian sculpture, Antonio Canova. In the late 18th and early 19th century Canova became well known as the finest sculptor of his generation. His ability and talents, particularly in rendering the human form, were unparalleled by any contemporary.
This Perseus is the epitome of his Neoclassical style that looked to antiquity for inspiration. The statue was purchased soon after its creation by Pope Pius VII Chiaramonti (1800-1823) who displayed it on the pedestal in place of the Apollo of the Belvedere which had been taken to France following the Treaty of Tolentino. It had similar weight, proportions and expressive characteristics of the statue of the famous Belvedere Apollo (itself an inspiration for Michelangelo and so many sculptors, including Canova).
There is an ironic artistic witticism hidden in this piece that goes along with Canova’s desire to take subjects of antiquity and cast a more modern spin on the subject matter. In this case, the story of the demi-god Perseus is that he avoided being turned to stone by chopping off the head of the Gorgon, Medusa. However, here he appears cast in stone as though his trial came to a less positive end. This is a conscious act of Canova who challenges antiquity with his cleverness and skill.
When the Apollo was returned to the Vatican, Perseus took up residence in a new place between statues of Two Pugilists (also by Canova), perhaps as a nod to a man who fought valiantly in the annals of Greek mythology.
(And for a glimpse into life inside the restoration with Andrea Felice, see this video!)
The meticulous and painstaking restorations took over three years to be fully completed. Guy Devreux, Head of the Museums’ Marble Restoration, explained that it was thanks to the patrons that it is possible for restorers to perform such “extraordinary work.” He went on to say that, “The fact that the restoration takes a long time isn’t because it’s going slowly, but our respect, love and professionality that wants to make sure the final result is great.” Today, the true beauty of the piece could be restored and maintained for the future. We are so grateful to the Northwest Chapter and the Altig family for all their help and very pleased that so many of their representatives could be here to witness the unveiling.
Ask the Northwest Patrons who were in attendance or take a look at some of our pictures on our Facebook group and Snapfish album– to see just how amazing of an experience this was. We hope to see you soon and to let you see just how glorious the Perseus is in person!