Canova’s Venus

This statue, designed with admirable simplicity, presents a tall, elegant, bending figure, shrinking with timidity. A light transparent drapery, supported by the left hand on the bosom, which it partly veils, crosses a little below the right knee, falling down to the marble in easy folds. The countenance is beautiful; the gentle inclination of the body, and attitude of the fine Grecian head, raised, and turning round, as it were, in watchful and apprehensive timidity, is full of grace and sweetness. The whole front view of this statue is exquisitely fine; and, if the forms had been but a little rounder, I think that even the most fastidious critic would have judged that nothing in antiquity could have surpassed, perhaps hardly equalled it. This is not, however, the view in which the artist himself takes his chief pride, nor the spectators the greatest delight; they say he excels in the back. I lament this opinion, because I cannot bring myself to share it. To my idea, the back represents a tame flat line, which, together with a slight degree of too great length in the left leg, may be mentioned as injuring this exquisitely beautiful work of art. In comparing the impressions excited in viewing the rival goddesses of Florence, I should say that the Medicean Venus displays in her whole deportment a mild repose, a tranquil dignity, that leads the mind to forget her situation; while the modest, though captivating timidity betrayed by Canova’s Venus, awakens the attention, and excites something of uneasiness, by compelling you to share her alarm. They have done much for this statue, by placing it in a finely proportioned and richly decorated apartment; but I should have done more, and have rendered it an incomparable work of art, by placing the back close to the wall.