Napoleon's sister is the ideal face of female beauty

Michael Day
Wednesday 06 July 2011 00:00 BST

In a beauty competition with a difference, the Italian public has chosen a marble rendition of Napoleon Bonaparte's sister as their ideal depiction of female beauty.

And in coming top in the poll of over 1,000 Italians, Canova's early 19th-century sculpture, Paolina Borghese, beat celebrated female figures painted by Botticelli, Titian and Hayez – and left Leonardo's Mona Lisa for dead.

Fabio de Paolis, of the Marilena Ferrari Foundation, which commissioned the survey by the research group Censis, said it showed the enduring popularity of the classical depiction of female beauty.

"There were 22 depictions of Venus among the most popular works of art, which says something about the popularity of classical female forms," he said.

Canova's sculpture, in which Paolina Bonaparte is shown as Venus reclining on a chaise lounge, gives the subject an elegance and composure of the works of ancient Greece and Imperial Rome. Dr Rossana Pittelli, of the Italian Cultural Institute, noted, however, that despite her classical depiction, Napoleon's sister was actually "a bit of a rebel".

The award for most aggressive women in art was shared by Titian's Salome with the Head of John the Baptist and Caravaggio's Judith Beheading Holofernese.

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