Herm of a Vestal Virgin
Enlarge (11MB) Zoom in
This image is available for download, without charge, under the Getty's Open Content Program.

Antonio Canova
Italian, Rome, 1820 - 1821
1 ft. 7 5/8 in. x 1 ft. 9/16 in. x 9 1/2 in.

Add to Getty Bookmarks

Vestal Virgins, consecrated to Vesta, Roman goddess of the hearth, served in temples as guardians of an eternal, sacred flame and were expected to emulate the goddess's purity and chastity. In his representation of one of these women, sculptor Antonio Canova suggested her innocence through the austerity and sparseness of the Neoclassical style, drawing on the contemporary idea that classical forms carry with them the expression of a strict morality. The bust is made of simple geometric shapes: a square for the bust and oval for the face. The tightly wound headcovering pulls in her hair and, with the cloak, draws attention to the purity of the shapes. Her firm shoulders and uninhibited, unmoving stare further suggest her resolve, innocence, and moral authority. Despite her physical beauty and the softness of the folds of the cloak, the statue does not invite touching. It is a cool, intellectual work of simple forms and restrained emotion.

With the discovery of the so-called House of the Vestals in Pompeii, Vestal Virgins became a popular subject in the 1700s and 1800s. This figure wears a historically accurate cloak, which suggests that Canova researched the subject.