Theseus and the Minotaur thumbnail 1
Theseus and the Minotaur thumbnail 2
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Image of Gallery in South Kensington
On display at V&A South Kensington
Sculpture, Room 22, The Dorothy and Michael Hintze Galleries

Theseus and the Minotaur

Statue
1782 (made)
Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

The legendary Greek hero Theseus sits astride the minotaur whom he has just killed. Coils of thread used by Theseus to retrace his steps from the minotaur's lair can be seen by the minotaur's left leg. This was one of Canova's earliest completed works after he left Venice to settle in Rome in 1780. The massive block of marble from which this group was carved was given to Canova by his patron Girolamo Zulian, who was Venetian ambassador in Rome in 1781. Zulian gave Canova the choice of subject for the work, and he decided on one of the stories from Ovid's Metamorphoses.

The Scottish painter, archaeologist and dealer, Gavin Hamilton (1723-1798), who was a friend of Canova, advised that he should portray Theseus and the Minotaur after their struggle. He considered that Canova would gain more favour and critical acclaim if he were to create a static group rather than a violent one. The sculpture did indeed receive widespread acclaim, and helped establish Canova's reputation as the leading European sculptor of his day. By the time Canova finished the work in 1782, his patron Zulian had moved to Constantinople, and he therefore allowed Canova to keep it. Canova sold it to an Austrian nobleman and collector, Count Moritz von Fries (1777-1826), and it was transported to Vienna. Later it was acquired by the 3rd Marquis of Londonderry and was installed in Londonderry House, probably during the 1820s. The contents of the house were sold in the 1960s prior to its demolition, when the Museum acquired the sculpture.


object details
Categories
Object Type
Parts
This object consists of 2 parts.

  • Statue
  • Plinth
Materials and Techniques
Marble
Brief Description
Statue, marble, of Theseus and the Minotaur, by Antonio Canova, made in Rome, 1782
Physical Description
Theseus seated on the prostrate Minotaur, holds a club in his left hand and rests his right on the left leg of his victim.
Dimensions
  • Height: 145.4cm
  • Length: 158.7cm
  • Width: 91.4cm
  • Marble group weight: 940kg
  • Base weight: 238kg
Gallery Label
Antonio Canova (1757–1822) Theseus and the Minotaur 1782 Based on the ancient Greek myth, this sculpture represents the moment after the Greek hero Theseus has killed the Minotaur (a half-man, half-bull monster). On the rock are coils of thread he needs to retrace his steps out of the labyrinth, the creature’s lair. This work, sculpted by Canova in his twenties, received widespread praise. It helped establish the young artist as the leading European sculptor of his day. Rome Marble Formerly in the Londonderry collection(2021)
Credit line
Purchased with Art Fund support
Object history
Bought with the assistance of the National Art-Collections Fund (£1000) for £3000 from the Executor of the 7th Marquess of Londonderry (Lord Nathan).
Subjects depicted
Summary
The legendary Greek hero Theseus sits astride the minotaur whom he has just killed. Coils of thread used by Theseus to retrace his steps from the minotaur's lair can be seen by the minotaur's left leg. This was one of Canova's earliest completed works after he left Venice to settle in Rome in 1780. The massive block of marble from which this group was carved was given to Canova by his patron Girolamo Zulian, who was Venetian ambassador in Rome in 1781. Zulian gave Canova the choice of subject for the work, and he decided on one of the stories from Ovid's Metamorphoses.



The Scottish painter, archaeologist and dealer, Gavin Hamilton (1723-1798), who was a friend of Canova, advised that he should portray Theseus and the Minotaur after their struggle. He considered that Canova would gain more favour and critical acclaim if he were to create a static group rather than a violent one. The sculpture did indeed receive widespread acclaim, and helped establish Canova's reputation as the leading European sculptor of his day. By the time Canova finished the work in 1782, his patron Zulian had moved to Constantinople, and he therefore allowed Canova to keep it. Canova sold it to an Austrian nobleman and collector, Count Moritz von Fries (1777-1826), and it was transported to Vienna. Later it was acquired by the 3rd Marquis of Londonderry and was installed in Londonderry House, probably during the 1820s. The contents of the house were sold in the 1960s prior to its demolition, when the Museum acquired the sculpture.
Bibliographic References
  • Williamson, Paul (ed), European Sculpture at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, Victoria & Albert Museum, 1996, pp. 168-9
  • Baker, Malcolm, Figured in Marble. The Making and Viewing of Eighteenth-Century Sculpture, London, 2000, frontispiece (engraving)
  • Bindman, David. Warm Flesh, Cold Marble - Canova, Thorvaldsen and their Critics, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2014p. 29, ill. p. 30, fig. 10
  • Frasca-Rath, Anna and Wickham, Annette, eds. John Gibson: A British Sculptor in Rome, exh. cat., 2016, p.8.
  • The Age of Neo-Classicism, London : Arts Council of Great Britain, 1972No. 307
Collection
Accession Number
A.5&A-1962

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record createdMarch 8, 2004
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