Antonio Canova by James Baldwin
A good many years ago there lived in Italy a little boy whose name was
An-to´ni-o Ca-no´va. He lived with his grand-fa-ther, for his own
father was dead. His grand-fa-ther was a stone-cut-ter, and he was
An-to-ni-o was a puny lad, and not strong enough to work. He did not
care to play with the other boys of the town. But he liked to go with
his grandfather to the stone-yard. While the old man was busy, cutting
and trimming the great blocks of stone, the lad would play among the
chips. Sometimes he would make a little statue of soft clay; sometimes
he would take hammer and chisel, and try to cut a statue from a piece
of rock. He showed so much skill that his grandfather was de-light-ed.
"The boy will be a sculp-tor some day," he said.
Then when they went home in the evening, the grand-moth-er would say,
"What have you been doing to-day, my little sculp-tor?"
And she would take him upon her lap and sing to him, or tell him
stories that filled his mind with pictures of wonderful and beautiful
things. And the next day, when he went back to the stone-yard, he
would try to make some of those pictures in stone or clay.
There lived in the same town a rich man who was called the Count.
Sometimes the Count would have a grand dinner, and his rich friends
from other towns would come to visit him. Then Antonio's grandfather
would go up to the Count's house to help with the work in the kitchen;
for he was a fine cook as well as a good stone-cut-ter.
It happened one day that Antonio went with his grandfather to the
Count's great house. Some people from the city were coming, and there
was to be a grand feast. The boy could not cook, and he was not old
enough to wait on the table; but he could wash the pans and kettles,
and as he was smart and quick, he could help in many other ways.
All went well until it was time to spread the table for dinner. Then
there was a crash in the dining room, and a man rushed into the
kitchen with some pieces of marble in his hands. He was pale, and
trembling with fright.
"What shall I do? What shall I do?" he cried. "I have broken the
statue that was to stand at the center of the table. I cannot make the
table look pretty without the statue. What will the Count say?"
And now all the other servants were in trouble. Was the dinner to be a
failure after all? For everything de-pend-ed on having the table
nicely arranged. The Count would be very angry.
"Ah, what shall we do?" they all asked.
Then little Antonio Ca-no-va left his pans and kettles, and went up to
the man who had caused the trouble.
"If you had another statue, could you arrange the table?" he asked.
"Cer-tain-ly," said the man; "that is, if the statue were of the right
length and height."
"Will you let me try to make one?" asked Anto-nio "Perhaps I can make
something that will do."
The man laughed.
"Non-sense!" he cried. "Who are you, that you talk of making statues
on an hour's notice?"
"I am Antonio Canova," said the lad.
"Let the boy try what he can do," said the servants, who knew him.
And so, since nothing else could be done, the man allowed him to try.
On the kitchen table there was a large square lump of yellow butter.
Two hundred pounds the lump weighed, and it had just come in, fresh
and clean, from the dairy on the mountain. With a kitchen knife in his
hand, Antonio began to cut and carve this butter. In a few minutes he
had molded it into the shape of a crouching lion; and all the servants
crowded around to see it.
"How beautiful!" they cried. "It is a great deal pret-ti-er than the
statue that was broken."
When it was finished, the man carried it to its place.
"The table will be hand-som-er by half than I ever hoped to make it,"
When the Count and his friends came in to dinner, the first thing they
saw was the yellow lion.
"What a beautiful work of art!" they cried. "None but a very great
artist could ever carve such a figure; and how odd that he should
choose to make it of butter!" And then they asked the Count to tell
them the name of the artist.
"The servants crowded around to see it."
"Truly, my friends," he said, "this is as much of a surprise to me as
to you." And then he called to his head servant, and asked him where
he had found so wonderful a statue.
"It was carved only an hour ago by a little boy in the kitchen," said
This made the Count's friends wonder still more; and the Count bade
the servant call the boy into the room.
"My lad," he said, "you have done a piece of work of which the
greatest artists would be proud. What is your name, and who is your
"My name is Antonio Canova," said the boy, "and I have had no teacher
but my grandfather the stonecutter."
By this time all the guests had crowded around Antonio. There were
famous artists among them, and they knew that the lad was a genius.
They could not say enough in praise of his work; and when at last they
sat down at the table, nothing would please them but that Antonio
should have a seat with them; and the dinner was made a feast in his
The very next day the Count sent for Antonio to come and live with
him. The best artists in the land were em-ployed to teach him the art
in which he had shown so much skill; but now, instead of carving
butter, he chis-eled marble. In a few years, Antonio Canova became
known as one of the greatest sculptors in the world.