In Ancient Greece love was a concept pondered over by some of history’s most famous philosophers including Plato and Aristotle. Greek philosophers attempted to explain love rationally and often categorized the different kinds of love people could feel, each with its own name such as storgé, familial love, or as in the case of this work of art, eros, or passionate love.
Because Valentine’s Day is upon us, I would like to unravel the ancient tale represented in this stunning oil on canvas by Francois Girard, Cupid and Psyche completed in 1798 from the collection of the Louvre Museum.
The painting tells one of the best known Classical stories about the love affair between the god Cupid and a mortal woman, Psyche, a stunningly beautiful princess. She is so lovely that people begin worshiping her rather than the goddess Venus. Unsurprisingly, Venus becomes extremely offended and directs her son Cupid to make Psyche fall in love with a hideous monster who comes to her only at night when he can't be seen.
Instead, Cupid falls madly in love with Psyche at first sight. The young princess is both surprised and aroused by the first kiss of Cupid, who is invisible to her. Of course, this only serves to further infuriate Venus. Thinking she will put an end to the affair, the goddess vindictively asks Psyche to perform a series of impossible tasks. Psyche manages to complete the tasks successfully and is made immortal as the wife of Cupid and accepted on Mount Olympus. Yes, even by Venus.
Cupid and Psyche is a passionate love story but also a metaphysical and spiritual allegory. Psyche is the personification of the human soul. This scene symbolizes the Neoplatonic theme of the union of the human soul and divine love. Hovering near the head of Psyche, the artist has painted a butterfly which In ancient Greek is called psyche.
Have a Happy Valentine's Day filled with every kind of love!
As an artist I am available for commissions. As an art historian, I present a range of art topics for groups and organizations. Go to www.deniselaurivisualart.com for more information.