The Ultimate Love Story
By: Yanelly Torres
Dr. Laura Meyer
Art History 131
February 28, 2013
Throughout art history there have been many artists who refer back to mythological figures and tales as artistic inspiration. Mythological stories, as well as the ideas of classic history, became increasingly reverted back to with the start of Neoclassicism. Rationality and tradition were rediscovered and implemented into artwork more frequently in the mid-eighteenth century; these key thoughts made up the ideals of Neoclassicism; the classical revival in European art. One of the great artists of the time was Baron Francois Gerard, whose oil painting of Cupid and Psyche in 1798 represented a true masterpiece of the Neoclassical period due to its overall focus on the main characters in the narrative while integrating powerful symbolism and creating a high quality of realism. Baron Francois Gerard’s 1798 painting of Cupid and Psyche portrays Psyche sitting on a grassy hill-like area. She is shown with a very vacant and far-off gaze as if observing something in the distance. Her posture is relaxed yet her arms are almost in a folded position over her bare body. Cupid is right next to her and has his arms wrapped around her carefully as to not touch her. His gaze is right at her face and has a look of longing in his eyes. Cupid carries his set of arrows around his right arm between his golden falcon wings. Cupid is completely naked and Psyche only has a transparent white fabric around her waist and is sitting on a salmon colored cloth. In the background there is a green hillside landscape. There is a yellow butterfly flying over Psyche’s head and at her feet in the lower left hand corner is a trail of blue morning glories.
In the mythological story, Cupid is invisible and only comes in the night to his beautiful wife, Psyche. By not being able to see her husband it creates a barrier between them. Curiosity overcomes her so one day she takes a glimpse of her husband to her surprise she sees he is gorgeous. He gets startled by her and disappears. Psyche wanders around the earth looking for her husband but without luck; in desperation she seeks the help of his mother Venus. Venus is jealous of Psyche’s beauty but feels sorry for her so she sends her on tasks in order to find Cupid. Cupid hears of Psyche looking for him and he appears to her and they live happily ever after on Mt. Olympus. This tale of Cupid and Psyche is a symbolic story for the struggle of the human soul to achieve its ultimate goal; eternal bliss. Psyche means “soul” in Greek and when she joins the gods of Mt. Olympus Psyche becomes the goddess of the soul; she represents the human soul. What Psyche desires the most is to be united with her husband, Cupid; the god of love and desire. By the end of the tale she is rewarded with his love and eternal life for staying loyal to him. Psyche had to endure many difficulties and trials, including traveling to the world of the dead, in order to attain her love. The story as a whole is conveying that the human soul thirsts for love and bliss but it can only be accomplished through struggle and overpowering obstacles. Cupid and Psyche personify that the human soul plus hardship equals eternal love and happiness.
Gerard, as well as other neo- classical painters, painted his figures in the way painters of the Roman and Greek eras would paint in a classically pure fashion. Using crisp and defined lines Gerard outlines the two centered figures without creating ambiguity or mystery. Lighting is used to emphasize Cupid and Psyche’s angelic and mythical qualities. Their skin is painted so delicately it’s almost as if you can touch the softness of their skin at every curve. Psyche’s posture is a bit awkward because her hands are folded in a way that suggests an embrace while her eyes show she’s calm and looking off into the distance; waiting for someone to come to