George Washington in Raleigh: Arrival and Destruction

etching and engraving of seated George Washington holding large tablet

Canova had completed the marble statue by the summer of 1820; and in March 1821, it was shipped — together with a pedestal, carved by his pupil Raimondo Trentanove — to North Carolina, where it arrived in December 1821. A newspaper praised the monument: “Even the celebrated Statues of the Apollo of Belvidere [sic] and the Venus of Medici have their blemishes, but the Statue of Washington, like Washington himself, is without a stain or spot.” The sculpture was inaugurated with great fanfare on Christmas Eve.

Canova’s statue, however, was on view for less than a decade. In the early morning of June 21, 1831, a fire destroyed the Raleigh State House. A later account reported that “during the fire the doors were opened and people saw the statue, snowy white at first, seated on the base some six feet high. Presently the statue reddened in the glaring flames and then with a crash of the falling dome came to almost total ruin.” Neither Canova nor Thomas Jefferson lived to witness the tragedy. Canova had died in Venice, on October 13, 1822, and Thomas Jefferson on July 4, 1826, at Monticello.

Fondazione Canova onlus, Possagno

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