Reverse-engineering the wounds of history. A controversial restoration aims to make whole again… and bring to life Canova’s sculpture of “The Dancer”… and the verdict on the whole affair is still FAR from in!

Canova, restored: "Look ma, ... hands!"

“The Dancer” gets her arms back! (… and that’s a sentence worthy of two exclamation points, not one! …!!) Let us rephrase: one of Canova’s more exuberantly joyous plaster models in the Canova Museum is getting a face-lift… er, a make-over… well, more precisely, it is getting “restored,” with the help from a bit of computer-aided slight-of-hand – no pun intended. This bit of restorative prosthetic surgery is not failing to raise more than a few eyebrows in the art community, here, and especially in the house of sculpture.

It’s either a conundrum worthy of a Stanislaw Lem novel, OR a bold act of  high-tech Re-creativity… / RE-animation – what is underway in a laboratory in the snowy north of Italy; its ramifications are just beginning to be felt, understood… and dealt with. But, dear reader, make no mistake – in places like Pietrasanta, this is fuel for the incredulous whisperings of scandal, and for the sarcastic rattling of self-righteous indignation… even in a city that’s pretty much “seen everything” that has to do with sculpture.

A team of specialists led by Ivano Ambrosini has undertaken what amounts to a radical reversal of (mis)fortune for one of Canova’s great “Danzatrici” sculptures. And the team is aware that they are treading into the unknown, where our ideas of art-restoration and of representation itself challenge the limits of their own definitions…

One could say … that the near-future is reaching back into the not-so-distant past and setting in motion an ambitious plan to UNDO the devastation that rained on one of Canova’s most light-hearted works, the ‘Dancer, with Cymbals.’ Its’ wounds sustained during shelling of the city of Possagno by the Austro-hungarians in the “Great War” (… the “worst-tragedy-to-ever-befall mankind …” – World War I.)

For nearly a century Canova’s plaster model lay crippled –  maimed by war…. marred by the century in which it was hewn. Its graceful arms – once raised like flower-stalks swaying in a venticello – were crushed… gone! Well, it turns out that a marble version, a reproduction Canova’s assistants executed under his supervision still exists intact – and it’s alive and well as an “immovable patrimony” of the Bode Museum of Berlin. Ambrosini’s team, in conjunction with the Berlin Museum, have embarked on an adventure. Their daring mission: to make whole again the Dancer’s missing arms.  And the “reverse-engineering” has meant 3D scanning the Berlin Dancer – and then reproducing anew the missing limbs from measurements, which the restorers argue has been done before by Canova and his able assistants in countless other instances.

Questions that sputter out on everyone’s lips in the Salons and in the Piazza include: “should not the statue, bear witness to its story… our story, should not its cracked stumps remind us of  the need for compassion, and our own (lost) grace… and beckon reflection? Is not the Dancer’s interrupted gesturing complete in its stillness? Are history’s wounds actually healable … in sculpture?”

Here is a photo-gallery from La Repubblica. We’ve embedded a video below. It’s a very “adsy” retelling of the affair complete with re-enactments and a cheesy soundtrack – we would normally not post such a commercial  video … yet in it one can get a shocking look at the truly sad state of the sculpture before the restoration.

Call it a miracle… or call it an affront; we’re on the fence. It’s “more Canova” in the world, and that’s good in and of itself. What do you think? Celebration, or … aberration?
Let us know your 2-cents-worth in the comments below.

There is an Exhibition of Canova’s drawings, sketches and watercolors to accompany the unveiling of the Dancer:
Canova e la Danza. La danza nella scultura e nella pittura di Antonio Canova”
at the Museo Gipsoteca Antonio Canova,
Via Antonio Canova 74, Possagno (Treviso)
More information at The Museo Canova
www.museocanova.it/

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