Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss

Hi everyone and welcome back to Exploring Art, this is Alessandro. Even without knowing the subject, we can tell that this is a beautiful romantic moment fixed in an everlasting marble block by the great Antonio Canova: probably the most talented neoclassical sculptor since Napoleon, the Pope and the richest men of his time were fighting to hire him.

And Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss is for sure a good example to recognize his talent, but also a perfect way to understand why this sculpture is so important in art, beside if you are romantic or not.

Psyche Revived by Cupid's Kiss - Canova
ARTIST: Antonio Canova
NAME Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss
LOCATION Louvre, Paris
YEAR 1787
TYPE Sculpture
DIMENSIONS 155 cm (61 in)

As anticipated, Canova was contemporary of Napoleon. In fact, this work of art was created in 1787 during Neoclassicism, a cultural movement inspired by classical antiquity.

That’s why both the style and the subject are classical. Precisely, Canova depicted the moment when Cupid revives the Greek goddess of the soul, Psyche, from a deep slumber after she opened a jar that she thought contained the Divine Beauty. Actually, it was a mean trick of Proserpina who inside put a potion to make her deeply sleep. Luckily, Psyche’s lover is the god of love, Cupid, who, with one of his charming arrows is able to wake her up. And here on the back, literally the back, we can see the dropped vase that seems is going to fall, and the arrow.

The scene

What we have here, beside the intricated mythological drama, it’s exactly the moment when Cupid gently holds her by supporting her head and breast. Psyche reaches up towards him. Her delicate hands reaching Cupid’s head and let’s start to look at the magic Canova created.

From the front we can barely see her face, enhancing the idea of vulnerability and innocence while in Cupid’s gaze we can read tenderness and compassion. Canova has also depicted the sensuality of the moment, with the soft curves of Psyche’s body and the gentle movement of her hair, as well as Cupid’s naked body which creates a sense of movement and fluidity in the composition.

And the movement is one of the main features since, thanks to the position and torsion of the bodies, we are pushed to admire the statue from all the angles, discovering more details and understanding why Canova is considered one of the greatest sculptors. Look in fact at the anatomy accuracy, the perfection of the smooth skin and Cupid’s wings, the realism of the drapery. We forget that we are in front of a marble statue.

Psyche Revived by Cupid's Kiss - Canova
Psyche Revived by Cupid's Kiss - Canova

Psyche revived by Cupid’s kiss – structure

I want you to notice also another characteristic: none a single body part is straight. Everything is twisting, spiraling with round, soft shapes that reach their apex in the middle of the composition where Cupid and Psyche create a circle, metaphor of the union, perfection of their love. The circle is like a frame of this beautiful portrait and let me show you what there is in the middle. There are just 2 straight lines in the whole composition, clearly evident thanks to Cupid’s wings, and they create this X that pull us to look in the middle where the protagonists are almost kissing each other. We can perceive the magnetic tension of the moment between the two lovers and Canova skillfully designed the composition to be sure this instant was captured in the marble forever.

The X structure is an old trick used by the ancient Greek and Roman sculptors that Canova adopted pushing it to a new level. And, looking more carefully, we really feel we are admiring a classical masterpiece.

Psyche Revived by Cupid's Kiss - Canova - structure
Psyche Revived by Cupid's Kiss - Canova

A classic inspiration

As a Neoclassical artist, he was inspired by classical antiquity, however here Canova did probably something more. The whole composition is perfectly designed to play with the chiaroscuro effect. The use of light and shadow enhances even more the idea of movement and walking around the statue is astonishing noticing how these two opposite elements create unique light effects on the marble.

That’s why chiaroscuro is a fundamental concept in art, in painting, sculpture and architecture as well. Not by chance all the greatest like Leonardo, Michelangelo, Bernini, Caravaggio were also supreme masters in the use of this technique. Check in the description for more free contents about them.


One last thing: it’s crazy how we fell the movement, but at the same time we are perfectly conscious we are looking at one single frame. So intense and romantic that it’s clear the anticipation of another artistic movement that would start in just a few decades: Romanticism.

Now considering all what we learnt about this incredible work of art, I want to give you fan fact. A Canova’s contemporary critic complained that there is no singular view from which it should be seen. My guess is that brilliant critic missed the point.

Canova created a timeless magnetic masterpiece: romantic, delicate, intense, static and in perpetual movement at the same time. Let me know what you think and the social media you can find more contents. Ciao!

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