According to Greek mythology, a ‘Charis’ or ‘Grace’ is one of the three or more minor goddesses of beauty, charm, human creativity, and fertility and together they were known as the Charities; or Graces. They were the daughters of Zeus and Eurynome, a nymph of the waterways and clouds. However, it is also said that Helios and the naiad Aegle were their parents. They were considered to be the essence of beauty, charm, and grace and were closely associated with the Nine Muses. The Three Graces were Aglaia, symbolizing elegance, splendour and brilliance; Thalia, representing youth, beauty and jubilation; while Euphrosyne signifying gaiety and or elation. They resided above the golden clouds on Mount Olympus and entertained the Olympian gods and goddesses. They sang and danced to the music of the Muses and the lyre of Apollo. They were also the mates and attendants of the love deities Aphrodite and Eros.
The beautiful Grace Sisters were assigned to impart beauty, charm, and goodness upon the young women and to give joy and the feeling of happiness to the people in general. As they sang and danced to the music of the Muses, they were closely associated with the Nine Muses and were also considered patrons of music, poetry and dance.
The mythological story of the Three Graces was a favourite subject and source of inspiration of many eminent painters and sculptors of the world. In most of the famous classical works the goddesses were depicted in nude, either in a happy huddle or in dancing postures. They fill the heart of the viewer with the feeling that the enchanting goddesses were really created to fill the world with pleasant moments, gaiety, peace and goodwill.
Antonio Canova, an Italian Neoclassical sculptor, born on 1 November 1757 in a small village near Venice, is the creator of the magnificent ‘The Graces’. The masterpiece was carved from white marble and demonstrates its creator’s ability to shape the stone to highlight the Graces’ soft flesh. The sculpture is all about the three goddesses, huddled together, their heads almost touching and standing leaning slightly inward enjoying their closeness. Their hairstyles are similar, braided and held in a knot. A charming and graceful balance is achieved, as the sisters embrace and become as one in their embrace, united by their linked hands and also by a scarf which provides some modesty. The unity of the Graces is one of the main themes of this masterpiece.
In 1812, Canova was commissioned to create the three Graces in marble by the Empress Joséphine de Beauharnais, the estranged wife of Napoleon Bonaparte. Unfortunately, she died before the completion of the carving and when it was finally completed in 1817, it was claimed by Eugène, son of the Empress, born from her first marriage with Alexandre de Beauharnais. After Eugéne’s death, the magnificent piece of sculpture was inherited by his son Maximilian and followed him to Saint Petersburg in Russia. Finally, in 1901, the graceful Italian sculpture joined the collection of the State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg, the second-largest art complex in the world