“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. The first version of this sculpture eventually became part of the Louvre Museum in Paris, France. In 1796, a Russian nobleman acquired this version, 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.
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.
In classical mythology, Cupid is the god of desire, erotic love, attraction and affection. He is also known in Latin as Amor (“Love”). His Greek counterpart is Eros. He is the main character in the tale of Cupid and Psyche when wounded by his own weapons, and he experiences the ordeal of love. Although other extended stories are not told about him, his tradition is rich in poetic themes and visual scenarios, such as “Love conquers all” and the retaliatory punishment or torture of Cupid.
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.
- Can you relate to this story about the dangers of curiosity, punishments and redemption?
- Why is Greek mythology so complex?
- Why were the ancient gods and goddess subject to jealousy and revenge?
- How did Psyche the goddess of the soul become the wife of the god of love?
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: Hermitage Museum
- Name: Antonio Canova
- Born: 1757 – Possagno, Republic of Venice
- Died: 1822 (aged 64) – Venice, Lombardy–Venetia
- Nationality: Italian
- Movement: Neo-Classical
- Notable works:
Explore the Hermitage Museum
- “Madonna Litta” attributed to Leonardo da Vinci
- Composition VI by Kandinsky
- “Portrait of Doña Antonia Zárate” by Francisco Goya
- “White House at Night” by Vincent van Gogh
- “The Three Graces” by Antonio Canova
- Egyptian Collection in the Hermitage Museum
- Gonzaga Cameo
- “Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss” by Antonio Canova
“Every block of stone has a statue inside it
and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.”
Photo Credit: 1) By Stebanoid (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons 2) CC BY-SA 2.5, Link Yair Haklai