The artist for this portrait is unknown and to date, no previous portrait of Canova in this pose has been located, hence it may well be an original miniature portrait.
Antonio Canova (1 November 1757 – 13 October 1822) was an Italian sculptor from the Republic of Venice who became famous for his marble sculptures that delicately rendered nude flesh. The epitome of the neoclassical style, his work marked a return to classical refinement after the theatrical excesses of Baroque sculpture.
In 1815 he was commissioned by the Pope to superintend the return from Paris of those works of art which had formerly been conveyed thither under the direction of Napoleon. In the autumn of 1815 he gratified a wish he had long entertained of visiting London, where he received the highest tokens of esteem.
It has been suggested that the artist for whom he showed particular sympathy and regard in London was Benjamin Haydon, who might at the time be counted the sole representative of historical painting there, and whom he especially honored for his championship of the then recently transported to England and ignorantly depreciated by polite connoisseurs Parthenon's marbles. It is said, the Elgin marbles - after a recommendation by Canova - were acquired by the British Museum, while plaster copies were sent to Florence, Italy, according to Canova's request.
Among Canova's English pupils were sculptors Sir Richard Westmacott and John Gibson. A miniature of Canova by Henry Bone was painted in 1821 as an enamel copy of the original by John Jackson. In June 2009 Sotheby's sold the Canova portrait by Bone for £23,750. Although a little larger, (243mm x 195mm), it forms a striking pair with an enamel portrait of Sir Anthony Carlisle FRS and later PRCS, (205mm x 170mm) also by Henry Bone which is in this collection, see View
While in London, Canova attended several lectures by Carlisle who was then Professor of Anatomy at the Royal Academy (1808-1824). Although the lectures of Carlisle were hugely popular, he was much maligned by Haydon for teaching the beauty of human form based upon live models and discussing Greek sculpture, rather than teaching the underlying human muscle structure from dissected cadavers, as had been the practice of the two previous Professors of Anatomy at the RA, William Hunter and John Sheldon. A factor that disinclined Carlisle to teach from dissected cadavers, was the experience of his immediate predecessor, Sheldon, who had the unfortunate experience of realising that a subject delivered to him for dissection was in fact the resurrected body of his own sister, who had died several days previously.
The credit granted to Haydon by some scholars in respect of the acquisition of the Elgin Marbles, would be better directed towards Carlisle, and Carlisle's father-in-law, John Symmons, who was prominent in society and had seconded Lord Elgin's second attempt to join the Dilettanti. Although it was not until Elgin's third nomination in 1811, that his nomination to membership was successful. Carlisle and Symmons were far more influential in London society than Haydon, whose style of painting was then out of fashion.
Other portraits of Canova painted during his 1815 visit to London were by George Hayter and Thomas Lawrence.
Canova returned to Rome in the beginning of 1816, with the ransomed spoils of his country's genius. Immediately after, he received several marks of distinction: he was made President of the Accademia di San Luca, the main artistic institution in Rome, and by the hand of the Pope himself his name was inscribed in "the Golden Volume of the Capitol", and he received the title of Marquis of Ischia, with an annual pension of 3000 crowns. 1460