Bust (Colossal Head) of Napoleon Bonaparte Antonio Canova Buy Art Prints Now
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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
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Antonio Canova derived the Bust of Napoleon from a colossal marble statue of the emperor as Mars Pacificus. The scale and composition of the head were as per the marble structure. Therefore, when put alone, it looked huge.

Antonio created the marble statue and presented it to the emperor, but the latter rejected it because of its nudity. However, the bust from the statue impressed the emperor although he did not take it. It later became one of the most important portraits of the emperor. Several heads of the Emperor were created and sent across Europe. However, this is the only one reproduced in marble out Antonio's workshop during the lifetime of the sculptor.

The Bust Colossal Head of Napoleon captures the ambition and the majesty of Napoleon's imperial portraits. Antonio Canova had taken a particular interest in the facial features of the emperor, such as the chin and the nose. This was partly the reason why it became one of the most important official portraits. The studio had created several replicas of the bust as plaster models. However, the empire was growing fast, and the demand for portraits was too high for Antonio's workshop to handle. Therefore, in 1805, Elisa Bonaparte, the emperor's sister, established business near Carrara quarries and Académie des Beaux-Arts for the creation of the marble portraits.

The Carrara workshop sanctioned the use of Antonio's burst plaster sculptures for the creation of marble replicas. This is why there are tens of marble heads that look like the original one by Canova. One of them stays at a Museum in Paris. The original marble head by Antonio Canova was not sold. It remained in his workshop as he sold the plaster replicas. Later on, Antonio moved it to his bedroom in Rome, where it stayed until he died in 1822. The ownership of the sculpture later changed hands when Anne, the Marchioness of Abercorn, bought it. After she died in 1827, the head was given to the 6th Duke of Devonshire according to the will.

The 6th Duke placed the Bust Colossal Head of Napoleon Bonaparte at the Sculpture Gallery, which was located in Chatsworth. He placed it in the middle of the room as it faced the burst of another emperor, Alexander the Great. According to Duke, this was the only authentic marble burst of the renowned emperor. Therefore, he ensured that it was given more care and attention than the rest. The statue is now housed in Apsley House, which is the London residence of the Duke of Wellington.