PAULINE BONAPARTE – Canova 1805
Pauline Bonaparte, Napoleon’s sister, is represented as Venus Victrix: in her left hand she is holding the golden apple thanks to which Paris recognized her beauty as being superior to that of the other two goddesses, Juno and Minerva. The story comes from ancient Greece. Paris the Trojan prince judged Venus more beautiful than either of her rivals, Minerva and Juno. In return Venus introduced him to a Greek girl called Helen and the rest of course is the stuff of epic poetry. The expedient of grafting portraits head on to the idealized bodies of the divinities or heroes was common in the art of imperial Rome and was also used in this statue by Canova.
Pauline is shown reclining on a pillowed couch in a pose of studied grace, both concentrated and relaxed. The modeling of the nude body is extraordinarily lifelike, while Canova’s treatment of the surface of the marble captures the soft texture of skin. The tactile quality of the piece is bought out particularly in the way the sitter’s own hands are occupied, the fingers of her right connecting ever so lightly with the nape of her neck, offer a gesture charged with seductive promise. The head is raised slightly suggesting that something or someone has suddenly entered her line of vision.