11066 A PATINATED AND GILT-BRONZE CENTERPIECE IN THE FORM OF A CUPID HOLDING TWO AMPHORAE French. First Quarter Of The Nineteenth Century. Measurements: Height: 20 1/4″ (51.5 cm).

Of patinated and gilt bronze. Of winged male form holding two elongated gilt-bronze handleless amphorae raised on a circular base of Rouge Griotte.

The centerpiece represents Cupid, or as the ancient Greeks knew him, Eros. It is more in keeping with classical sculptures that present the god as an athletic young adult, such as the Farnese Eros in the Archaeological Museum in Naples, found in Pompeii in the late eighteenth century and likely to be a copy after a Greek original (figure 1). Antonio Canova’s Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss in the Louvre of 1787 also presents an athletic adolescent version of the god that has been considered a milestone in the emergence of what would become nineteenth century romanticism.

Whilst the free and elegant styling of the present piece begins to lean towards the Romantic era, so does its subject matter. The urns suggest that it is in an interpretation of the moment recounted in the story of Cupid and Psyche when the Cupid’s mother Venus, angered by Psyche’s insolence in loving her divine son, commands him to punish his lover. From the two fountains in Venus’s garden, one full of water that brings bitterness, and one joy, he filled two vases and went to the sleeping Psyche. As his mother had told him, he applied the water of bitterness to her lips, but when she awoke he was so taken with her, and so sorry for what he had done that he poured the waters of joy from the second vase over her, greatly angering his mother. The centerpiece thus represents the triumph of love over adversity, a perfect subject for the nascent Romantic era.

The story of Cupid and Psyche was first recounted as part the classical novel The Golden Ass written by the Roman author Apuleius in the second century AD. It was rediscovered in the Renaissance and remained an immensely popular subject for artists for several centuries until the modern age.  The story ends happily when Cupid presents ambrosia, the drink of the god to his beloved Psyche. Her consumption of the miraculous substance makes her divine, so that they can be married and be together forever.

This beautifully modeled centerpiece is an unusual example of a free-standing sculpture in the medium of gilt and patinated bronze, whose informed, erudite subject matter suggests it is likely a one off commission for a wealthy and discerning patron.

The works of Apuleius; a new translation comprising the Metamorphoses, or Golden ass, the God of Socrates, the Florida, and his Defence, 1914, p. 439.

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