Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss

Image: ‘Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss’ by Antonio Canova, (Source: Wikipedia)

Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss is a sculpture by Antonio Canova first commissioned in 1787. It is regarded as a masterpiece of Neoclassical sculpture whilst sharing characteristics of the Romantic movement that was still emerging at the time. It represents the god Cupid in the height of love and tenderness, immediately after awakening the lifeless Psyche with a kiss. The story of Cupid and Psyche is taken from Lucius Apuleius’ Latin novel Asinus aureus (=The Golden Ass). The statue entered the Louvre Museum in Paris, France in 1824 where it still lies.

Antonio Canova was born in 1757 in Possagno, Italy. During Napoleon Bonaparte’s campaigns of 1796-97, Napoleon became aware of Canova’s skill. General Bonaparte offered Canova his protection and greatly flattered the sculptor, and later, when he was military dictator of France as first consul, he sought to enlist Canova’s considerable talents for his own glorification. Canova however, deemed himself an independent artist believing that “art was above politics.” Yet this was not enough as in the end power politics, manifested in French pressure on the papacy, forced Canova to acquiesce. Against his wishes, Canova gained various titles and honors such as Cavaliere of the Golden Spur, Cavaliere di Cristo, and marquisate of Ischia. He died in 1822. Although highly successful in his lifetime, Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss remains by far his most famous work.

Renowned German art critic Carl Ludwig Fernow (1763-1808) criticized the sculpture stating that ‘there is not a singular point of view from where the statue can be seen, you must run around it, look at it from high and low, up and down, look at it again and keep getting lost.’ Fernow’s main complaint of Canova’s work is that one has to view the sculpture by walking around it rather than from one perspective. Fernow continues, ‘this effort is somewhat mitigated, for the group perches on a pedestal and can be walked around at will; but the observer strives in vain to find a point of view from which to see both faces together, and in which to reduce each ray of tender expression to one central point of convergence.’