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Venus and Mars
Circle of Canova, Antonio
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Circle of Canova, Antonio

Possagno, Treviso, 1757 - Venice, 1822

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Venus and Mars

1820 - 1830. Marble.
Room 054

The Marquess of Salamanca sold Venus and Mars by Antonio Canova (1757-1822) to the Museo del Prado in 1881. At the time of acquisition, its attribution had been maintained for decades, but when Pavanello was cataloguing all of Canova’s work in 1976, he considered it a copy. While focusing on Canova’s workshop, Reyero (1996) thought the piece could have been made in the 1820s by someone in Canova’s inner circle, perhaps by Adamo Tadolini or Rinaldo Rinaldi.

Made of Carrara marble, this sculpture represents the goddess of love and beauty accompanied by her true love, Mars, even though she is married to Vulcan. This is an allegory in which Venus, as the goddess of peace, tries to keep Mars, the god of war, away from battle by catching his gaze and luring him in. The scene balances strength with tenderness and exemplifies excellent workmanship. Along with this sculptural group that was exhibited in Vista Alegre, the Marquess of Salamanca had another sculptural group in his possession in the centre of Madrid on the Paseo de Recoletos, with which it has sometimes been confused. ‘The magnificent group of Venus and Adonis, attributed to Canova, which later ended up in Fernández de Villavicencio y Crooke’s collection [serves as] an affirmation of the Italian and Neo-Renaissance atmosphere that Salamanca sought.’ This suggests that the Marquess opted for two groups from Canova’s workshop. This second group was sold at Sotheby’s in 1992 and was auctioned there again in 2008.

The Museo del Prado bought Venus and Mars, other works by Tenerani and Lazzerini, and a large gallery of other paintings through a Royal Decree on 16 June 1881. The price was high -40,000 pesetas at the time- and by the end of June the work had already entered the Museum. On 17 May 1924, the Undersecretary of the Ministry of War asked the Museo de Arte Moderno for sculptures (including this group) to embellish its gardens, where they were transferred in 1896. At a Board of Trustees meeting on 23 May, the Director of the Museum confirmed the agreement to transfer this work to the Buenavista Palace, although in the end it seems that it was not carried out.

As for the Marquess of Salamanca’s model, one of the sculptors who worked with Canova may be behind its creation. It could have been either Tadolini, Rinaldi or even Baruzzi, as they all transferred the master’s sketches to marble. The information about the Madrid copy provided by the Gipsoteca in Possagno states: ‘Grazie al modello in gesso, la Bottega di Canova ne scolpì una copia in marmo che si trova al Museo d’Arte Moderna di Madrid’. The attribution to Tadolini is based on two factors. First, Adamo Tadolini (1788–1868), an outstanding pupil who was very close to Canova both personally and professionally, understood the original piece well, given that he worked on it. As he recounts in his memoirs that describe the year 1817: ‘Tadolini disse di sí, ma che per il momento no poteva lavorarvi che il dopo pranzo, mentre stava abbozando per Canova il gruppo Della Pace e Della Guerra, sotto il símbolo di Venere che accarezza Marte... Tadolini aveva compiuto il grupo di Canova, rappresentante Venere che accarezza Marte, e giá aveva abbozzate le statue in marmo, ma con un mecanismo che si poteva lavorare disgiuntamente ogni figura. Indeed, this group inspired Tadolini to design his plaster model of Giasone e Medea in 1817 for the first Canova competition held by the Canova-Tadolini workshop in Rome. However, it is markedly different: as Jason raises his arm high, Medea embraces him around the waist and steps forward as if to stop him from reciprocating, all in one moving action. Second, the Marquess of Salamanca’s offer to the Museo del Prado also included Adam and Eve by Tadolini, which was considered worthy of being among the selected pieces. Although Tadolini’s work was not ultimately acquired, it indicates that the Marquess had previously bought works from him, so it would not be surprising in the least if it was through the workshop that he acquired Venus and Mars. Tadolini recounts in his autobiography from 1824, two years after Canova’s death: ‘Intanto il Tadolini eseguì in marmo due grupi: Adamo ed Eva (Fu inviato in Spagna nella galleria del sig. Salamanca) ...di grandezza naturale’. On the other hand, it is also possible that the sculpture was finished by Canova’s disciple Rinaldo Rinaldi (1793–1873), who could have sculpted the two groups acquired by the Marquess. The technical specifications additionally suggest a possible attribution to Rinaldi. In any case, it is one of the most important works of Italian art in the Museo del Prado.

This version is true to the original work by Canova, Venere e Marte, the plaster model from 1816 in the Gipsoteca in Possagno, with the corresponding pointing marks. A terracotta model in the same collection was destroyed in the 1917 bombing of the Gipsoteca during the First World War. The 2.10-metre-high marble piece, made between 1816–22, can be found in London’s Buckingham Palace, beneath the Minister’s Staircase on the ground floor at the end of the Marble Hall, which provides access to the private rooms. It was made for George IV of England, who commissioned it in 1815 when Canova was in the British capital working on Cupid and Psyche, albeit in reverse and with a different attitude. Representing an allegory of war and peace while seeking a contrast between strength and grace, this work was completed with the help of Tadolini, his collaborator. It was exhibited with great success in 1822. The descriptions and prints expressed appreciation for its great beauty and for the contrast in the treatment of the male figure as the warrior with the softness of the female figure who calms him.

The quality of the Madrid work is magnificent and very few details are different from the original marble version by Canova in London, both of which are life-size. The Prado version’s overall finish is less polished, yet Venus’s hair is treated with much more care, as there are more shadows in her curls and waves. There are other variations from the original, such as the treatment of the creases in Venus’s clothing and the design of the cornucopia. The leather band over the shield at the back lacks eyelets in the Prado version and there are also some variations in the decorative motifs of the sword’s sheath. The spearheads differ, although in both works it is an added element, since it would have protruded from the stone block from which the sculpture was carved. The first print representations of the group reveal that the spear is not finished. Nevertheless, in the Possagno plaster and in the print in Cicognara’s work, the point appears rounded. However, the point of the Prado’s example is cut off at the lower edges, while in the British model the point ends with a rounded shape. At the same time, the modelling of the bodies is very similar, as is the relationship between the two gods through their intense gaze, especially that of Venus.

Azcue Brea, Leticia, La escultura italiana del siglo XIX en Madrid y el coleccionismo privado (II). Boletín de la Real Academia de Bellas Artes, 2009, p.141-192

Technical data

Inventory number
Circle of Canova, Antonio
Venus and Mars
1820 - 1830
Height: 233 cm; Width: 125 cm; Base/bottom: 60 cm; Weight: 766 Kg; Weight of the support: 1132 Kg
Collection of the Marquis of Salamanca; acquired by the Prado Museum, 1881; Museo de Arte Moderno, 1896-1971

Bibliography +

Pavanello, Giuseppe, L'opera completa del Canova, Rizzoli, Milán, 1981, pp. 126-127.

Reyero, Carlos, Canova, Historia 16, 1996, pp. 116 y 120.

''El Prado disperso''. Nuevos depósitos. Madrid, Museo Naval, Boletín del Museo del Prado, 17, 1999, pp. 170.

Azcue Brea, Leticia, La escultura italiana del siglo XIX en Madrid y el coleccionismo privado (II), Boletín de la Real Academia de Bellas Artes, 108-9, 2009, pp. 141-192.

Museo Nacional del Prado, El siglo XIX en el Prado, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, 2010, pp. 19.

Azcue Brea, Leticia, El origen de las colecciones de escultura del Museo del Prado. El Real Museo de Pintura y Escultura, El taller europeo. Intercambios, influjos y préstamos en escultura moderna europea. I Encuentro europeo de museos con colecciones de escultura, Valladolid, 2012, pp. 73-108.

Canova: la belleza e la virtù, Hapax editore,, 2015, pp. 128-135.

Other inventories +

Catálogo Museo de Arte Moderno, 1900. Núm. 18.
SECCIÓN DE ESCULTURA. / Canova (D. Antonio) [...] 18.- Venus y Marte (Grupo de mármol). / Alto 2'10 metros. Ancho 1'20 metros.

Catálogo Museo de Arte Moderno, 1899. Núm. 16.
SECCIÓN DE ESCULTURA. / CANOVA (D. Antonio) [...] 16.- Venus y Marte (Grupo de mármol). / Alto 2'10 metros. Ancho 1'20 metros.

Inv. Nuevas Adquisiciones, Escultura, 1856-96. Núm. 50.
50 / Autor Dn/ N. de Canoba / un grupo en marmol, que representa: Venus y Marte / Alto Ancho '' // [Margen izquierdo:] ''Adquirido en 40000 pertenecientes al Excmo Señor de Salamanca por Real orden fha 16 Junio 1881'' // [En lápiz azul:] ''Paso Prado'' y ''Paso al Museo Nl. de Pintura y Escultura'' // [A tinta roja:] ''Pasó al Museo de Arte moderno.

Inscriptions +

On metallic tablet. Plinth

Location +

Room 054 (On Display)

Displayed objects +


Update date: 20-08-2022 | Registry created on 28-04-2015

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