Antonio Canova's early masterpiece, the "Amorino", or "Cupid", went missing for a century before its discovery amid the greenery of a West Country home in 1996. Covered in moss and minus its delicately formed hands, it was not obvious as the classical Italian sculpture commissioned in 1789 by one of Dublin's most powerful families.
Even then the statue's future seemed uncertain after it was bought by a Hampshire antiques dealer but failed to fetch its pounds 1m asking price at a Sotheby's auction.
Two years on, the "Amorino", described as Canova's first step into a neo-classical style, has been restored to its former glory for display in Ireland's National Gallery in an exhibition of works commissioned by the La Touche family and fittingly called "The La Touche Amorino".
"When I saw it in London I understood why it didn't draw any bids because it was in such a state," said the gallery's Italian-born chief curator, Sergio Benedetti. "It was half destroyed, painted white and absolutely covered in filth."
Learning the "Amorino" sale had fallen through, despite the clamour over Canova's "Three Graces", Benedetti alerted his directors. They were bereft of cash but approached the one monied interest linked to the sculpture, the Bank of Ireland. The La Touches, who commissioned the work, were one of the bank's founding families.
The bank was happy to oblige. Relief for gifts to arts bodies meant the pounds 550,000 cost was set off against tax.The exhibition runs until February.Reuse content