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Cupid and Psyche in Art

“Cupid and Psyche” by Anthony van Dyck

ty”Cupid and Psyche” by Anthony van Dyck

The story of Cupid and Psyche in Art

Many famous painters have captured the story of Cupid and Psyche in Art:

“Cupid and Psyche” by Anthony van Dyck

“Cupid and Psyche” by Anthony van Dyck depicts the mythological story of Cupid finding Psyche and saving her from a dark and forbidding sleep. There are various versions of the story, and in one version, Venus, who was jealous of Psyche’s beauty, set her several tasks with evil intent.

Psyche’s last task was to bring Venus a small portion of Proserpine’s beauty from Hades in an unopened casket. Psyche, overcome by curiosity, opened the box that can be seen in this painting and released not beauty, but an infernal sleep.

Van Dyck’s composition has the diagonals of the bodies echoed by the diagonals of the dead and living tree in the background. This composition reinforces the story of Cupid’s touch bringing life back to Psyche. Cupid is shown as an angel with hope, while Psyche assumes the form of a body in Lamentation.

This painting is the only surviving mythological painting from Van Dyck’s employment as Charles I’s court artist. Anthony van Dyck’s main inspiration was Titian, whose pictures were a significant feature of Charles I’s collection. The choice of subject is also poignancy when seen in a historical context as it was painted on the eve of the outbreak of the Civil War in England when Charles I believed it was his fate to restore the Royal prerogatives.

Anthony van Dyck (1599 – 1641) was a Flemish Baroque artist who became the leading court painter in England after his success in the Southern Netherlands and Italy. He is best known for his portraits of European aristocracy, most notably Charles I and his family and associates.

“Cupid and Psyche” by Anthony van Dyck

  • Title:                              Cupid and Psyche
  • Deutsch:                       Amor und Psyche
  • Artist:                            Anthony van Dyck
  • Created:                        1605
  • Media:                          Oil on canvas
  • Dimensions:                Height: 172.7 cm (68″); Width: 132 cm (52″)
  • Type:                             Mythological Art 
  • Museum:                      Royal Collection

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“Cupid and Psyche” by François Gérard

"Cupid and Psyche" by François Gérard

“Cupid and Psyche” by François Gérard

“Cupid and Psyche” by François Gérard depicts a young princess, Psyche, who is surprised and aroused by the first kiss of Cupid, who is effectively invisible to her. A symbolic butterfly hovers over Psyche’s head in a moment of innocence poised before sexual awakening. She has awakened from her sleep through a Love, which she does not see but feels. The purity of feeling is captured by the modesty of gestures. The myth depicted is a love story and an allegory of Psyche as a personification of the human soul.

Cupid and Psyche is a story originally from Metamorphoses written in the 2nd century AD. The story is about overcoming the obstacles to the love between Psyche “Soul” and Cupid “Desire” and their ultimate marriage. The story has been retold in poetry, drama, and opera, and depicted widely in painting, and sculpture.

François Gérard (1770 – 1837) was a prominent French painter. He was born in Rome, where his French father worked, and his mother was Italian. Gérard’s drawings show a delicacy for his depiction of women with remarkable simplicity and frankness of expression.

“Cupid and Psyche” by François Gérard

  • Title:                               Cupid and Psyche
  • Artist:                             François Gérard
  • Created:                         1798
  • Media:                            Oil on canvas
  • Dimensions:                  Height: 186 cm (73.2″); Width: 132 cm (51.9″)
  • Type:                              Mythological Art 
  • Museum:                       Louvre Museum

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“Cupid and Psyche” by Jacques-Louis David

“Cupid and Psyche” by Jacques-Louis David

“Cupid and Psyche” by Jacques-Louis David

“Cupid and Psyche” by Jacques-Louis David depicts the challenge of between idealized love and physical reality. Cupid is the lover of the mortal Psyche, and he visited her nightly on the condition that she does not know his identity. Cupid was usually depicted as an ideal adolescent, but in this painting, David presents him as an ungainly teenager smirking at his sexual conquest.

David’s inspiration for the depiction of Cupid included a recently published Greek poem that described Cupid as a trickster with flashing eyes and curly hair.

The Cupid and Psyche Story

There were once a king and queen with three daughters of great beauty. The youngest and most beautiful was Psyche, whose admirers, neglecting the proper worship of the love goddess Venus. Venus was offended and sent her son Cupid to shoot Psyche with an arrow so that she may fall in love with something hideous. Cupid instead accidentally scratches himself with his dart and falls deeply in love with Psyche.

Cupid becomes enamored with Psyche and rescues her by hiding her in his palace. He visits her by night on the condition of not attempting to look upon him in the light. Psyche’s envious sisters convince her that her lover must be a hideous monster, and she finally uses a lamp in their chamber to see her lover. Startled by his beauty, she drips hot oil from the lamp on Cupid and wakes him. He then abandons her because Love cannot live where there is no trust.

Psyche is then is trapped wandering the earth looking for him, and in desperation, submits to the service of Venus. Venus sends Psyche on a series of impossible quests. Each time Psyche despairs, and each time she is given divine help to achieve the quest. On her last task, she is required to retrieve a dose of Proserpina’s beauty from the underworld. She succeeds, but on the way back, she can’t resist opening the box to benefit from it herself. The opening of the box releases a lifeless sleep on Psyche.

Cupid finds her in this lifeless state and revives her by returning the sleep into the box. Cupid then grants Psyche immortality so they can be wed as equals. Thus Psyche became the goddess of the soul and the wife of Cupid, the god of love.

“Cupid and Psyche” by Jacques-Louis David

  • Title:                             Cupid and Psyche
  • Artist:                            Jacques-Louis David
  • Created:                       1817
  • Media:                          Oil on canvas
  • Dimensions:                Height: 184 cm (72.4″); Width: 242 cm (95.2″)
  • Type:                             Mythological Art 
  • Museum:                      Cleveland Museum of Art

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“Cupid and Psyche” by William-Adolphe Bouguereau

“Cupid and Psyche” by William-Adolphe Bouguereau

“Cupid and Psyche” by William-Adolphe Bouguereau

“Cupid and Psyche” by William-Adolphe Bouguereau is only one of many depictions executed by the artist on this subject. The painting features Greek mythological  Cupid rescuing Psyché. He transports Psyche to his palace home, which according to the story, has golden columns, a carved ceiling of citrus wood and ivory, silver walls embossed with wild and domesticated animals, and jeweled mosaic floors.

At this mysterious palace, a voice tells Psyche to make herself comfortable, and she is entertained at a feast that serves itself and by singing to an invisible lyre. Although fearful, Psyche allows herself to be guided to a bedroom, where in the darkness, a being she cannot see, has sex with her. She gradually learns to look forward to his visits, though he always departs before sunrise and forbids her to look upon him.

William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825 – 1905) was a French academic painter. He used mythological themes, making modern interpretations of classical subjects, with an emphasis on the female human body. The resurgence of interest in Classical Greek and Roman mythology of the mid-eighteenth century gave way for such renderings to the story of Cupid and Psyche. Their triumph over adversity from Venus and their differences in mortality made this theme famous.

“Cupid and Psyche” by William-Adolphe Bouguereau

  • Title:                              Cupid and Psyche
  • French:                         Psyche et L’Amour
  • Artist:                            William-Adolphe Bouguereau
  • Created:                        1889
  • Media:                           Oil on canvas
  • Dimensions:                 Height: 200 cm (78.7″); Width: 116 cm (45.6″)
  • Type:                             Mythological Art 
  • Museum:                      Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery

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“Amor and Psyche” by Jacopo Zucchi

“Amor and Psyche” by Jacopo Zucchi

“Amor and Psyche” by Jacopo Zucchi

“Amor and Psyche” by Jacopo Zucchi depicts the night when Psyche brings out a dagger and a lamp she had hidden in the room to see and kill the monster that makes love to her but demands that he stays hidden in the dark. But when the light instead reveals the most beautiful creature she has ever seen, she is so startled that she wounds herself on one of the arrows in Cupid’s cast-aside quiver.

Struck with a burning passion, Psyche spills hot oil from the lamp and wakes Cupid. Once Psyche has broken her commitment, he flees, and though she tries to pursue, he flies away and leaves her.

Psyche had been rescued by Cupid, who has taken her to his Palace, but he did not reveal himself to her as he is a god, and she is mortal. In the darkness, they enjoy their lovemaking, and she learns to look forward to his visits. But he always departs before sunrise and forbids her to look upon him. Soon, she becomes pregnant.

However, Psyche’s family longs for news of her, and after much cajoling, Cupid permits Zephyrus, the Greek god of the west wind to carry her sisters up for a visit. When they see the splendor in which Psyche lives, they become envious and undermine her happiness. They prod her incessantly to uncover her husband’s true identity, since surely as foretold by the oracle, she was lying with the vile serpent, who would devour her and her child.

The artist, Jacopo Zucchi (1541- 1590) was a Florentine painter active in Florence and Rome. His painting reflects the details in the mythological story in this life-size painting. Psyche has a weapon in her hand, and one of Amor’s arrows is under her foot. After she pricks herself with the arrow, she falls madly in love with him. This painting is one of Zucchi’s last paintings and is an example of “convenient censoring,” where the vase with flowers provide Amor with a modesty cover as Psyches modesty is protected by her jewelry.

“Amor and Psyche” by Jacopo Zucchi

  • Title:                              Cupid and Psyche
  • Deutsch:                        Amor und Psyche
  • Artist:                             Jacopo Zucchi
  • Created:                        1589
  • Media:                           Oil on canvas
  • Dimensions:                 Height: 173 cm (68.1″); Width: 130 cm (51.1″)
  • Type:                              Mythological Art 
  • Museum:                       Galleria Borghese

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“Cupid and Psyche in the Nuptial Bower” by Hugh Douglas Hamilton

"Cupid and Psyche in the Nuptial Bower" by Hugh Douglas Hamilton

“Cupid and Psyche in the Nuptial Bower” by Hugh Douglas Hamilton

“Cupid and Psyche in the Nuptial Bower” by Hugh Douglas Hamilton depicts the lovers in a woodland setting, where their pale bodies contrast dramatically with the dark surroundings.

Psyche’s wings are those of a butterfly, a symbol of the soul, and consistent with Ancient Greek representations. In the bottom right of the painting, a butterfly rests on a rose. The rose is an attribute of Cupid, as are his bow and quiver on the ground. Ivy growing in the background, meanwhile, represents immortality.

The artist, Hugh Douglas Hamilton (1740 – 1808), was an Irish portrait-painter. He spent most of his time in London and Rome before returning to Dublin in the early 1790s.

“Cupid and Psyche in the Nuptial Bower” by Hugh Douglas Hamilton

  • Title:                              Cupid and Psyche
  • Artist:                            Hugh Douglas Hamilton
  • Created:                        1793
  • Media:                           Oil on canvas
  • Dimensions:                 Height: 198 cm (77.9″); Width: 151 cm (59.4″)
  • Type:                              Mythological Art 
  • Museum:                       National Gallery of Ireland

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“Cupid and Psyche” by Károly Brocky

"Cupid and Psyche" by Károly Brocky

“Cupid and Psyche” by Károly Brocky

“Cupid and Psyche” by Károly Brocky depicts a scene from the story of late antiquity by Lucius Apuleius (2nd century AD) called the Metamorphoses or Golden Ass. In this painting, Psyche is depicted as a beautiful mortal maiden. After Cupid accidentally pricks himself with his love arrow, he falls in love with her himself.

Apuleius’s novel was among the few ancient texts that made the crucial transition from roll to codex form when it was edited at the end of the 4th century. It was known to Latin writers such as Augustine of Hippo, but toward the end of the 6th century lapsed into obscurity but survived the “Dark Ages” through a possibly a single manuscript. Then Metamorphoses remained unknown until copies began to circulate in the mid-1300s among the early humanists of Florence. The tale received positive reception during the Italian Renaissance and was then disseminated throughout Europe.

Károly Brocky (1808 – 1855) was a Hungarian painter. His first contribution to the Royal Academy was in 1839, and from that time he exhibited portraits, popular subjects, and miniatures.

“Cupid and Psyche” by Károly Brocky

  • Title:                              Cupid and Psyche
  • Artist:                            Károly Brocky (or Charles Brocky)
  • Created:                        1855
  • Media:                           Oil on canvas
  • Dimensions:                 Height: 166 cm (65.3″); Width: 140 cm (55.1″)
  • Type:                             Mythological Art 
  • Museum:                      Hungarian National Gallery

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“Amor and Psyche” by Louis-Jean-François Lagrenée

"Amor and Psyche" by Louis-Jean-François Lagrenée

“Amor and Psyche” by Louis-Jean-François Lagrenée

“Amor and Psyche” by Louis-Jean-François Lagrenée depicts a French Rococo rendition of this popular story. A peak of interest in Cupid and Psyche occurred in the Paris of the late 1790s and early 1800s, reflected in a proliferation of opera, ballet, art, books, and decorations. In the aftermath of the French Revolution, the myth became a vehicle for new fashions.

The story of Cupid and Psyche touches on with themes of love, jealousy, disobedience, exile, and redemption. It is also an allegory of Soul’s journey on earth and the union with the divine after death.

Louis-Jean-François Lagrenée (1724 – 1805) was a French Rococo painter who won the Grand Prix ​​de Rome for painting in 1749 and was elected a member of the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture in 1755.

“Amor and Psyche” by Louis-Jean-François Lagrenée

  • Title:                             Cupid and Psyche
  • Artist:                           Louis-Jean-François Lagrenée
  • Created:                       1805
  • Media:                          Oil on canvas
  • Type:                            Mythological Art 
  • Museum:                     Nationalmuseum Stockholm

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“Amor and Psyche” by Alphonse Legros

"Amor and Psyche" by Alphonse Legros

“Amor and Psyche” by Alphonse Legros

“Amor and Psyche” by Alphonse Legros is a depiction of Cupid as he approaches the princess to wake her by touching her with his arrow.

Venus was jealous of Psyche’s beauty, and she sent her son Cupid to work her revenge. Cupid is sent to shoot Psyche with an arrow so that she may fall in love with something hideous. He instead scratches himself with his own dart, which makes any living thing fall in love with the first thing it sees. Consequently, he falls deeply in love with Psyche.

Amor means “love” in Spanish and is another Latin name for Cupid. Cupid, which in Latin means “Desire,” and Amor or “Love” in Greek is Eros.

“Amor and Psyche” by Alphonse Legros

  • Title:                               Cupid and Psyche
  • Artist:                             Alphonse Legros
  • Created:                         1867
  • Media:                            Oil on canvas
  • Dimensions:                  Height: 116.8 cm (45.9″); Width: 141.4 cm (55.6″)
  • Type:                              Mythological Art 
  • Museum:                       Tate Britain

Cupid

In classical mythology, Cupid (Latin meaning “desire”) is the god of desire, erotic love, attraction, and affection. He is often portrayed as the son of the love goddess Venus and the god of war Mars. He is also known in Latin as Amor (“Love”). His Greek counterpart is Eros. In the tale of Cupid and Psyche, when wounded by his weapons, he experiences the ordeal of love.

  • Mythical Role:                      God of desire, erotic love, attraction, and affection
  • Symbols:                               Bow and arrow
  • Parents:                                Mars and Venus
  • Consort:                                Psyche
  • Children:                              Voluptas
  • Greek equivalent:              Eros

The Myth of Cupid and Psyche Explained

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“Love cannot live where there is no trust.”
– Edith Hamilton, Mythology

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Photo Credit 1) Anthony van Dyck / Public domain; François Gérard / Public domain; Jacques-Louis David / Public domain; William-Adolphe Bouguereau / Public domain; Jacopo Zucchi / Public domain; Hugh Douglas Hamilton / Public domain; Károly Brocky / Public domain; Louis-Jean-François Lagrenée / Public domain; Alphonse Legros / Public domain

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