Antonio Canova (1757–1822), the greatest of all Neoclassical sculptors, remains famous above all for the elegant nude mythological subjects that he carved exquisitely in marble. He also worked in a deeply serious, deceptively simple style. This less familiar Canova is revealed in an extraordinary series of full-scale plaster models illustrating episodes from the Old and New Testaments. Such models, used to review his compositions before they were transferred into stone, were a distinctive feature of his sculptural practice. These Biblical scenes were made in connection with a project for thirty-two low reliefs that were to adorn the Tempio Canoviano, the church he built for his home town Possagno, which later became the artist's mausoleum. He completed only seven models before his death.
Six of the reliefs come from the Gallerie dell'Accademia in Venice, and one from the Gipsoteca in Possagno. Newly restored, they are being lent for the first time to the United States. Drawing inspiration from ancient sculpture and early Renaissance masters, the models are striking for the marked linearity of the figures, arranged in brilliantly syncopated compositions. They constitute Canova's last, profoundly moving masterworks.