Perseus Triumphant (with Head of Medusa) Antonio Canova Buy Art Prints Now
from Amazon

* As an Amazon Associate, and partner with Google Adsense and Ezoic, I earn from qualifying purchases.

Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
Email: [email protected] / Phone: +44 7429 011000

Several versions exist of Perseus Triumphant, with this sculpture design also sometimes known as Perseus Triumphant with the Head of Medusa. The sculptor, Canova, would slightly tweak each version leaving behind intriguing variations across the various iterations.

The main version can be found in the Pio Clementino Museum within the Vatican Museums in Vatican City, Italy. There are later replicas in National Trust, Knole and The Metropolitan Museum of Art in the USA. Canova is believed to have worked on all of these separate sculptures personally. The design itself features Perseus in celebratory mood, having just removed the head of Medusa in a famous tale which has inspired many an artwork over the ages. This iconic image features across a number of art movements, both within painting and also sculpture. The item within Vatican City was produced around 1800-1801 for Onorato Duveyriez and it would then be sold on several times more in the coming years. It is believed to have been a very early version of the sculpture, from around 120-140 AD which inspired the sculptor to take on this topic, and a quick visual comparison between the original and his own work displays many obvious similiarities. The classical piece is generally attributed to "after Leochares", an unknown follower of the more famous sculptor from around 400 BC Greece.

The museum itself, one of a number of impressive venues within Vatican City, was named after two Popes, Clement XIV, who himself had actually established the museum in the first place, and also Pius VI who played an important role in overseeing the venues planning and construction. This exciting venue was opened back in 1771, even before Canova had constructed the statue. The area displays mainly Green and Roman sculpture, having previously been used for more of a Renaissance focus. Perseus Triumphant (with Head of Medusa) is currently on display in the Octagonal Court which is an open part of the building and one can immediately understand the connection between Canova's own work plus the more classical older items which stand alongside it here. Perseus Triumphant was actually held in France for a number of years before making its way back to Italy where it provides a key part of this museum's impressive display. The overall selection of art and architecture within Vatican City remains amongst the most significant in the world, and is a key part of this location's strong tourist appeal which helps it to attract millions of visitors every year, with Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel ceiling being the biggest draw of all.

The composition features the figure wearing a winged cap, as well as the sandals associated with Mercury. The modestly-sized sword was presented to Perseus prior to taking on this task, with the hope that it would enable him to fulfil this challenging request. The sculptor would then go on to produce another version in 1804–6, and that is the piece which now resides within the USA at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. The American sculpture was bought by Countess Valeria Tarnowska of Poland and is described by the museum itself as having been designed with a "more lyrical effect" in mind as compared to the original work of several years earlier. It is rare to find any Canova sculptures within the US, such was his relatively small output across his career, as well as the fact that most of his work remains within Italy. The Met itself offers an impressive variety of work from all manner of different mediums and artistic disciplines, covering pretty much all tastes of those who visit this prestigious site.

Perseus Triumphant (with Head of Medusa) in Detail Antonio Canova