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Joy of Museums

Museums, Art Galleries and Historical Sites

“Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss” by Antonio Canova (Louvre)

"Psyche Revived by Cupid's Kiss" by Antonio Canova

“Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss” by Antonio Canova

“Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss” by Antonio Canova shows the mythological lovers at a moment of high emotion. It represents the god Cupid in the height of love and tenderness, immediately after awakening Psyche with a kiss. Having been awakened, Psyche reaches up toward her lover, Cupid, as he gently holds her by supporting her head and breast.

This sculpture exemplifies Antonio Canova’s craftsmanship and skills in carving marble that provides superb contrast between the smooth skin of Psyche and Cupid as compared to the surrounding elements. The detached draping around Psyche’s lower body, emphasises the difference between the texture of skin and drapery. Beautiful curls and lines define the hair, and the feathery details create the realistic wings of Cupid. The rough stone texture provides the basis of the rock upon which the composition is placed.

“Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss” was first commissioned to Canova in 1787 by a British art-collector and politician. This first version of the sculpture eventually became part of the Louvre Museum in Paris, France. In 1796, a Russian nobleman acquired the 2nd version, from Canova in Rome and it later entered the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg.

Cupid and Psyche

The story of Cupid and Psyche appears in Greek art as early as the 4th century BC, but the most extended source of the tale is the Latin novel Metamorphoses, also known as The Golden Ass, by Apuleius (2nd century AD). The story’s theme concerns the overcoming of obstacles to the love between Psyche (“Soul” or “Breath of Life”) and Cupid, and their last union in marriage. Psyche’s story includes the theme of dangerous curiosity, punishments and tests, and redemption through divine favour.

The back story is that the fame of Psyche’s beauty threatened to eclipse that of Venus herself. So the love goddess sent Cupid to work her revenge. Cupid, however, becomes enamoured with Psyche and rescues her by hiding her in his palace. He visits her by night, warning her not to try to look upon him. 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 him. Startled by his beauty, she drips hot oil from the lamp and wakes him. He then abandons her, because she broke her bond.

Antonio canova, amore e psiche louvre 03

Psyche then is trapped wandering the earth looking for him, and in desperation submits to the service of Venus. The goddess sends Psyche on a series of quests. Each time she despairs, and each time she is given divine aid. 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 in the hope of benefitting from it herself, after which she falls into a lifeless sleep.

Cupid finds her in this lifeless state and revives her by returning the sleep into the box. “Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss” is the climax of the story, after which Cupid grants Psyche immortality so they can be wed as equals. Thus Psyche became the goddess of the soul and the wife of Eros or the Roman equivalent Cupid, the god of love.

Greek Ideas for Love

Eros, the Ancient Greek god of love, gave his name to only one type of love for the Greeks. The Ancient Greek language distinguished at least six different types of love each with a different word to explain the kind of love. The six distinct words for love were: philía, éros, agápe, storgē, pragma, and philautia. It is difficult to distinguish the separate meanings of these words without carefully considering the context in which the words are used.

  • Philia
    • Philia means love, as affectionate regard and friendship. It is a dispassionate virtuous love.
  • Éros
    • Eros means love, as sexual passion. The Modern Greek word “erotas” means “intimate love”.
  • Agápe
    • Agápe means love, with charity and good intent. The love of God for man and of man for God. The word Agape was used by Early Christians to express the unconditional love of God for his children. This type of love was further explained by Thomas Aquinas as “to will the good of another.”
  • Storge
    • Storge means love, as tenderness and affectionate attachment. The love of parents and children typifies this love.
  • Pragma
    • Pragma means love, as demonstrated by the partnership and mutual respect in a lengthy marriage.
  • Philautia
    • Philautia means love of self. The self-love or self-respect in the love for one’s own self. This type of love can be seen as a healthy type of self-esteem but can also be harmful when it is dominated by conceitedness and egotism.

All these six types of love are generally seen as human and healthy forms of love, but at the extreme, they can also be destructive of the individual and society, as warned by the many examples in Ancient Greek Mythology and Philosophy.

Antonio Canova

Antonio Canova (1757 – 1822) was an Italian Neoclassical sculptor, famous for his marble sculptures. Canova was regarded as one of the greatest of the Neoclassical artists; the Baroque and the Classical Revival inspired his artwork. Canova’s passion in sculptures were either Heroic compositions, compositions of Grace, or Tomb monuments. Canova was a highly recognised successful sculptor, and his skill and talent are evident in his work of “Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss”.

Antonio Canova was born in the Venetian Republic, and unfortunately, his father was a stonecutter, died when Canova was three years old, Fortunately, he was put into the care of his paternal grandfather who was a stonemason and a sculptor who specialised in altars with statues and low reliefs. His grandfather led Antonio into the art of sculpting. At the age of nine, Antonio Canova executed two small shrines of Carrara marble, which are still in existence. After these works, he was employed under his grandfather as a sculptor.

Antonio Canova worked in Venice, Rome, France and England and by 1800, Canova was the most celebrated artist in Europe. He promoted his reputation by publishing engravings of his works and having marble versions of plaster casts made in his workshop. He was so successful that he had patrons from across Europe including France, England, Russia, Poland, Austria and Holland. In 1820, Canova made a statue of George Washington for the state of North Carolina.

Reflections

  • Can you relate to the six types of love?
  • Is there another category of love that was not defined by the Ancient Greeks?
  • Can you relate to this story about the dangers of curiosity, punishments and redemption?
  • When you use the word love, how do you indicate which version of the six types of love you want to communicate?
  • Why were the ancient gods and goddess subject to jealousy and revenge?

Explore Antonio Canova

Explore the Louvre

Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss

  • Title:                  Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss
  • Artist:                Antonio Canova
  • Year:                  1787-1793
  • Place Created:   Italy
  • Medium:            Marble
  • Dimensions      155 cm × 168 cm (61 in × 66 in)
  • Museum:          Louvre Museum in Paris, France

Antonio Canova

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“Every block of stone has a statue inside it
and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.”

– Michelangelo

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Photo Credit:  1) Sailko [CC BY 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons 2)I, Sailko [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)]

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