This spectacular relief — of dramatic size but still retaining incredibly precise and crisp details as well as its lovely mellow surface — is perfectly representative of Canova's sculpture. It is at once full of emotion and incredibly elegant and restrained. And while not by the hand of Canova himself, nevertheless, it is intimately connected to Canova's production. Stecchini, the great-nephew of Canova, was a youth of seventeen when he died in 1839, and the monument for his tomb was commissioned by Bishop Battista Sartori-Canova, Canova's half-brother and also great-uncle of Stecchini, Canova's sole heir and who inherited the contents of his studio.
The present relief is the model for Rinaldi's finished marble monument which was originally designated for the Canova family chapel in Possagnano (see J.-R. Gaborit, Nouvelles acquisitions du Départment des Sculptures, 1988-1991, Paris, 1992, pp. 100-102, no. 34). It was removed in 1878 and, after passing through various private collections, was sold at Sotheby's, London, 10 December, 1987, lot 212 and in 1991 donated by Alain Moatti to the collections of the Louvre.
The Stecchini monument is clearly, and very closely, modeled after Canova's design for the monument to Countess Elisabetta Mellorio of 1812. The marble is now in the Palazzo Mirto, Palermo and the gesso model is in Canova's Gipsoteca in Possagno (see S. Androsov, M. Guderzo and G. Pavanello, eds., Canova, exh. cat., 2003, pp. 382-383, IV.16 and A. Rigon, Possagno e Canova: il tempio la Gipsoteca e casa Canova i dintorini, Citadella, 1985). And while the Stecchini composition is nearly identical to the Mellorio monument —indeed the most minute decorative details are mirrored in each — there are some variations. The most obvious difference is the successful addition of the robust garland of flowers which helps connect the bust of Stecchini and the mourning woman to the figure of the putto.
The similarities extend to the elaborate framing device as well. The smallest details of the moldings of the pediment in the Stecchini monument are identical to those in the Mellorio monument and can be seen in an engraving of the Mellorio monument by Pietro Fontana (see Canova, 2003, p. 459, V.34).
Rinaldi had been Canova's assistant since joining the studio in 1811. As Gaborit notes, of all the assistants working in Canova's studio at the time of his death, Rinaldi is, by far, the most likely candidate to have made the present composition (op. cit., p. 100). Bishop Sartori clearly trusted Rinaldi to execute many of the unfinished marbles left in Canova's studio after his death and, perhaps even more critically, to respect Canova's style and further the tradition of the master into the late 19th century.
Signature: Depicting a bust of Pietro Stecchini on a pedestal, with a classically dressed female mourner with her arms wrapped around the bust and a mourning putto at the base of the pedestal
Manufacturer: After the design by Antonio Canova (1757-1822)
Stecchini family, Bassano.
Anonymous sale; Sotheby's, New York, 25 January 2007, lot 287.