Past Exhibition

Primo Pensiero for George Washington

terracotta sculpture of George Washington

Antonio Canova (1757–1822)
Primo Pensiero for George Washington, 1817
13 3/8 x 11 3/8 x 8 1/8 in. (34 x 29 x 20.5 cm)
Museo di Roma, Palazzo Braschi, Rome
© Roma - Sovrintendenza Capitolina ai Beni Culturali - Museo di Roma; photo Mauro Magliani


Canova’s work on the George Washington began with three-dimensional sketches in terracotta. This is likely to be his primo pensiero (first thought) for the sculpture — a working tool, with clay added quickly as the artist was developing ideas for the composition and iconography. Here, Washington appears seated, at his side a cornucopia that indicates the prosperity of the United States. It is possible to see pencil marks on his torso and shoulders, as well as several fingerprints in the clay.