Canova Selected to Sculpt George Washington Statue in State Capitol

The statue as it is today in the rotunda of the State Capitol

The statue’s recreation as it is today in the rotunda of the State Capitol

On January 22, 1816, Thomas Jefferson responded to a letter from North Carolina congressman, Nathaniel Macon, recommending a sculptor to create a statue of George Washington for the North Carolina State Capitol.  With no hesitation, Jefferson recommended Italian Antonio Canova, “…for 30 years, within my own [knowledge], he has been considered by all Europe as without a rival.”   Jefferson further recommended that the rendering of the statue be that of a Roman soldier.

The finished sculpture, which arrived in 1821, cost $10,000 and received acclaim nationwide for its beauty and workmanship.  An elaborate dedication ceremony was held and the statue remained in the rotunda of the State Capitol where, in 1825, it was seen by the Marquis de LaFayette.

A drawing of the statue in the rotunda ca. 1890-1920

A drawing of the statue in the rotunda ca. 1890-1920

When the Capitol burned in 1831, the Carrara marble sculpture was shattered. Pieces were saved and for several years attempts were made to restore the statue.  In 1908, an original model of the Washington sculpture was found in the Canova Museum in Italy and Italian authorities allowed a plaster replica to be made.  In 1970, a marble reproduction of the original Canova sculpture was placed in the rotunda of the 1840 State Capitol. It still greets visitors today.

The State Capitol Historic Site will celebrate the birth of Romano Vio–the man who made the 1970 reproduction of the statue with a special program on February 23.

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