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Cupid and Psyche

by Antonio Canova

The end of the 18th century saw many different artistic styles. Some painters produced serious themes and other artists preferred playful and tender scenes. The Roman Empire was once again a source of inspiration. It was also a period of political and social unrest. In 1789, the Revolution put an end to the monarchy for 15 years until the Restoration. Napoleon became emperor of France until 1815.

This charming neoclassical Canova sculpture has enchanted visitors to the Louvre for decades, including Napoleon Bonaparte, for whom the artist made several commissions. This vision of love represented through the kiss of Cupid, reliving Psyche from his dream, seems to represent a new life. It is an appropriate sculpture for the new Empire that sought to bring hope to publish the French Revolution. The sculpture dates back to when the Louvre Palace was opened as a museum in 1793, after the Revolution.

The composition of the sculpture, its ethereal quality and its soft marble (polished implacably to create the illusion of real skin) really appeals to the imagination of the spectator. Canova was inspired by the myth of Venus, the goddess of love, who gave Psyche a task to bring back a vial from the underworld with strict instructions not to open it. However, the curious Psyche disobeyed the goddess and opened the jar. Intoxicated by the content, she fell into a mortal sleep, until Cupid, the son of Venus, found Psyche and woke her up with a kiss. The story has a happy ending. Cupid is authorized to marry his beloved Psyche by the gods. Then she becomes the goddess of the soul and attains immortality.

This sculpture is wonderful to watch spinning around it. The fine sculpture, the sense of immediacy and the careful attention to detail, such as the anatomy of the bodies, the clothes and the attributes of the figures (the flask, the bow and arrows of Cupid and the flowing curtains) give the charm of this masterpiece.