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Il Tempio in Possagno

Il Tempio in Possagno from above

Welcome to Possagno
From Jesse's Journeys in Italy

Population:  2,154 (2004)
Official website:
Wikipedia: Possagno

The small and pleasant town of Possagno is set in a green and verdant valley in the foothills of the Alps in central Veneto Region.  The town is the birthplace of the famous painter and sculptor Antonio Canova, Possagno and boasts a neoclassical temple, the Tempio Canoviano  designed by the artist in the twilight of his life, and final repository of his genius and ashes.


“Il Tempio”, which is dedicated to the Holy Trinity.  Canova laid the first stone of the building, which is dedicated to the Holy Trinity, in 1819.   Canova spent his own money building the temple and only asked the local people to provide basic materials such as lime, stone and sand.  In return, the people worked days, nights and holidays to complete the structure.  The bone white temple, with its graceful cupola and portico, can be seen from a great distance from Possagno and visually dominates the town itself.


Looking at the temple building, one finds three sources of inspiration: the Doric columns are evocative of the Parthenon in Athens, the main body structure recalls the Parthenon in Rome and the raised apse is reminiscent of ancient Christian  basilicas.  These three parts  symbolize the three ages of classical history: Greek, Latin and Christian.


Il Tempio houses many precious works of art, among which the altarpiece above the altar of S. Francesco di Paola, by Luca Giordano and the painting of Jesus in the Garden of Olives by Palma il Giovane.  Various examples of metope (square space between the triglyphs of the Doric-style frieze) all by Canova, who depicted scenes taken from the Old Testaments.  The large niche to the right just inside the doors is home to a bronze Pieta by Bartolomeo Ferrari working from a model by Canova.  On the main altar is a painting of the Deposition which Canova executed  between 1798-99 for the old parish church.  It was moved to the temple in 1830.


At the top of the steps and from the portico one can look out to the mountainous reaches and valleys of the Grappa range which rise toward the Alps.   The hills are covered in chestnut trees and deciduous trees of many other kinds including acacia, beech, ash, elm and hazel. 


At the base of the temple, is the Museo Canoviano, also known as the Gipsoteca, which presents a connected series of exhibition halls  containing the works of Canova from different periods.  The 19th century  wing is an architectural marvel  conceived by the Venetian architect Francesco Lazzari and completed in 1836.  The wing, flooded by natural light from skylights, has a high and solemn barrel vault ceiling divided into 3 sections.   Contained within this section are exposed gesso models of a few funeral monuments and statues, among which the enormous Theseus, conqueror of the Centaur.  One also finds statues of Hercules,   Lichas, Venus and Adonis, and  famous Paolina Bonaparte at rest. 


In 1957, on the occasion of the bicentenary of the artist’s birth was expanded.   A luminous new exhibition space was designed by the Venetian architect Carlo Scarpa to accentuate  the whiteness of the gesso and the realism of the human shapes sculpted by Canova.  Here one can admire the “Three Graces”, idealized, sensuous  nudes with the intertwining limbs, flowing veils: a near perfect,  harmonious whole.  In the Scarpa wing, one also finds a group of Dancers, a Venus, a Psyche standing, a Naiad reclining, a bust of Napoleon with all its terracotta models, and lastly a sculpted self-portrait of the artist himself.

By Jesse Andrews, August 26, 2006

Region of Veneto

45°51′N 11°53′E


Bassano del Grappa - 18 km:
Treviso - 45 km;
Vicenza - 54 km;
Padova - 64 km;
Venice - 87 km;
Trento - 99 km;
Verona - 119 km



Il Tempio is only open until 1:00 PM, so be sure to arrive in the morning in order to gain entry.  Take note that the temple is CLOSED  Mondays.


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