Many myths inspire works of art throughout history. Our article on the Neoclassical sculpture Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss by Italian artist Antonio Canova.
Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss
Psyche reaches up with her arms outstretched towards a winged Cupid as he stands with his knee bent to support her head against his torso. His arm reaches from behind her to wrap around and support her breast. The two lovers are poised as Psyche is asleep after just having been revived by Cupid’s kiss. The figures are nude with drapery flowing over Psyche’s lower half as she is laying down. The sculpture stands at just over 5 feet tall.
The Backstory Myth of Psyche and Cupid
Psyche was a princess who was so beautiful that people started to worship her as an even more beautiful than Venus. That made Venus jealous. In a fit of rage, she ordered her son, Cupid, to bewitch Psyche with one of his arrows so that she would fall in love with a hideous monster. When Cupid saw Psyche, he was so overcome by her beauty that he accidentally pricked himself with one of his arrows, which caused him to fall in love with her.
Without knowing that Cupid had fallen in love with his daughter, Psyche’s father went to Apollo’s oracle. The oracle predicted that Psyche would marry a horrible monster. Accepting his daughter's fate, Psyche’s father brought her to a cliff to await her hideous husband. As Psyche waited, Zephyr, the west wind, came and brought her to the palace of Cupid. Out of view, this mysterious husband promised Psyche that she would be treated well so long as she never set eyes on him. Once pregnant with her husband’s child, she held a lamp to look upon her husband as he slept. When she discovered that her husband was Cupid, she dropped the oil lamp. Cupid awoke in pain from the burns.
Venus, still very jealous and upset, appeared and promised Psyche that she could stay with Cupid, but only if she completed a series of seemingly impossible tasks. The final and most dangerous task was to journey to the Underworld, obtain some of Proserpina’s beauty, and bring it back in a container for Venus. Believing that she had convinced Prosperina to let her have some of her beauty, Psyche began her journey back to Venus. On the way back from the underworld, Psyche was curious and opened the container. What came out of the jar wasn’t beauty at all: it was eternal slumber. Falling prey to Prosperina’s trick meant for Venus, Psyche fell into a deep sleep. Cupid begged Zeus to take mercy on Psyche. He gave Cupid ambrosia to revive his beautiful wife.
This statue is the moment that Cupid has delivered ambrosia to Psyche, and she is waking up from her sleep.
The Artist Antonia Canova
Canova is an Italian Baroque sculptor and regarded as one of the greatest Neoclassical artists. He was commissioned by Welsh art collector Colonel John Campbell in 1787 to produce Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss. Canova built a handle into the sculpture’s base so that it could be viewed in rotation, and German art critic Karl Ludwig Fernow complained that one would have to run around the sculpture and look up and down to take in the work. However, the sculpture caught Napoleon Bonaparte’s attention and he invited Canova to his court. Although Canova refused the invitation claiming that art was not to be politicized, he gained various titles and honors for his skill.
Where you can find Psyche Revived by Cupid's Kiss by Antonio Canova sculptures
Today, we can see many versions of Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss in a couple of different museums. A French military commander purchased the first version in 1800, and it was brought to the Louvre in 1824. Russian Prince Yusuprov purchased the second version from Canova in 1796. And, it was later put in the Hermitage in Saint Petersburg. Currently, a copy of the second version stands in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.