Canova: Cupid & Psyche
Psyche, the most beautiful woman on Earth, has angered one of the vengeful Roman goddess Venus. Venus, jealous and angry over competition for her beauty title, sets in motion the plan to destroy Psyche. Cupid, Venus’ son, was put on the duty to do so, shooting her with an arrow so that when she awakes to a vile creature(placed by her side by Venus) she will fall in love with it, but something happened. While invisible and in Psyche’s room, Psyche awakens before Cupid can scratch her with his arrow and startles him. Cupid scratches himself and falls deeply in love with her.
He became enamored with the beautiful Psyche. Cupid became Psyche anonymous lover, which angers Venus. She curses Psyche that she will not meet her a suitable husband or any husband. This upsets Cupid, vowing to shoot any arrows, which will cause no creature to fall in love, mate or marry and in turn cause Venus’ temple to fall to ruins. After months of this, Venus gives in to Cupid’s desires for Psyche. Cupid goes back to work shooting his arrows, restoring everything as it should be. Every creature mates and fall in love and the Earth is becomes young.
Though as all this is happening, no one desires Psyche as their wife. Psyche’s parents consult an oracle who tell them to leave Psyche on the nearest mountain, saying her beauty is so great it is not meant for mortal man. The West Wind comes and carries Psyche to a far away palace where she is attended by invisible servants until nightfall, where her promised bridegroom comes and consummates their marriage. Cupid visits her every night to sleep with her but demands that she never light any lamps. Psyche is convinced by her spiteful sisters that she has married a serpent who will devour her and her then unborn child at the right time. They tell her to conceal a knife and lamp so that once her husband is asleep she is to light the lamp and slay him. She does this. As she lights the lamp, Psyche sees not a serpent but the fair Cupid himself, however she accidentally pricks herself with one of his arrows and falls madly in love with him. She begins to kiss him but a drop of oil falls onto Cupid’s shoulder and wakes him. He flies away quickly, leaving Psyche to fall from the palace, sick at heart.
Psyche searches for her love, even asking Venus for help. Venus decides to trick Psyche by sending her on dangerous and life-threatening quest, where she gets help from creatures to succeed. Venus is angered by this and decides to send Venus to the Underworld to as the Queen of the Underworld to give her a box with a bit of beauty in it, since Venus’ beauty is waning from carrying for her distraught son, who is upset over Psyche’s distrust.
Psyche thinks the quickest way to the Underworld is to kill herself by jumping off a tower. The tower stops her and tells her of a way to get into the underworld, get past Ceres(the three headed dog) and to return alive. She is to do as she told and not eat anything but coarse bread will there. She does this and returns to the Living World alive with the box but becomes curious and greedy. She opens the box to take some of the beauty but finds not beauty but sleep that engulf her.
Cupid, who has forgive Psyche, flies to her and awakes her with a kiss. He flies her to Mount Olympus, after begging Jupiter – king of the Gods – to help him. Psyche becomes immortal and stays forever with Cupid, giving birth to Delight, goddess of pleasure.
This is the story of Psyche and Cupid that is instilled in the sculpture by Antonio Canova. The story was told within the 4th, 5th, and 6th book of Apuleius’ “The Golden Ass”, the only Latin novel to survive in its entirety. A mix of an allegory, myth, and fairytale, Cupid and Psyche’s love is one that has enamored the world for ages.
Created in 1796, this is the first of two statutes Canova sculpted of the couple. With his wings outstretched, Cupid is seen swooping down to his sleeping lover, Psyche. The focus of the sculpture is created by their interlocking arms and Cupid’s loving gaze. The life-like feel of the sculpture similar to that of Bernini and Rodin. Canova’s execution of Neo-Classical is an example of perfect form and finish. The flesh of Cupid and Psyche is almost real in the marble as Psyche reaches up to her love and gazes undying into his eyes.
Born in Venice, Italy, Canova was very famous for his marble sculptures that rendered the delicate nude flesh.His father and grandfather were bother stone-cutters which influenced Canova very much. Canova had a very successful career in Rome, sculpting for the Pope, and in France and England. His two sculptures of Cupid and Psyche are his greatest works, launching his fame, Canova’s last work was to be a statue of Kind Ferdinand VII but he died before finishing from a illness he had suffered from throughout his life. His remains were deposited at a temple in Possagno, his home village in Venice, while his heart was interred in a mausoleum intended for Titian, the painter, in the Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari.