10/09/15 Aggiornato il:

Antonio Canova | Psyché et l'Amour, 1788-1793



"Psyche Revived by Cupid's Kiss" is a sculpture by Antonio Canova first commissioned in 1787 by Colonel John Campbell. It is regarded as a masterpiece of Neoclassical sculpture, but shows the mythological lovers at a moment of great emotion, characteristic of the emerging movement of Romanticism. 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 The Golden Ass and was popular in art.
- Joachim Murat acquired the first or prime version (pictured) in 1800. After his death the statue entered the Louvre Museum in Paris, France in 1824;
- Prince Yusupov, a Russian nobleman acquired the 2nd version of the piece from Canova in Rome in 1796, and it later entered the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg.

The story of Psyche
© Musée du Louvre/ There were once a king and queen who had three very beautiful daughters. Psyche, the youngest and most beautiful of them, was venerated like a goddess by the local people.
Jealous and infuriated by such blasphemy, Venus, goddess of Beauty, ordered her son Cupid to avenge her by making Psyche enamored of the lowest of all human beings. But at the sight of the beauteous mortal Cupid fell hopelessly in love. Psyche’s father, in despair at seeing his daughter unmarried despite her beauty, consulted the oracle of Miletus. The oracle predicted terrible disasters if the girl were not abandoned at once on a rock, where a monster would carry her off.
Alone and trembling on the rock, Psyche suddenly felt the caress of a light breeze: this signaled the coming of Zephyr, the gentle west wind. He bore her away to a marble palace covered with precious stones, which would now be her home.
Each night a mysterious visitor came to Psyche’s room and made love to her. But he forbade her to try to see his face.
One night Psyche, curious to see her lover’s face, lit her oil lamp as he slept and saw that he was none other than the god of Love. But a drop of burning oil suddenly woke him; and feeling himself betrayed, he fled.

Desperate, Psyche set out in search of her lost love. Venus inflicted terrible ordeals on her, leading her from the Underworld to Olympus. For the last of these ordeals, Venus sent Psyche to Proserpina, goddess of the Underworld, ordering her bring back a flask she should open under no circumstances. But Psyche, a victim of her curiosity, opened the flask. Inhaling the dreadful vapors, she fell into a deathly sleep. Cupid revived her by touching her with his arrow. Moved by such devotion, the gods finally granted Cupid Psyche’s hand. They gave her nectar and ambrosia, and this made her immortal. They then consecrated her goddess of the Soul.
Since ancient times Psyche has been depicted with butterfly wings. This is a reference to the dual meaning of her name, Psukhē, in Greek: soul and butterfly. Thus did the butterfly become the symbol of the immortality of the soul.
The story of Psyche symbolizes the ordeals the soul must undergo in order to achieve happiness and immortality.



This winged young man who has just landed on a rock where a girl lies unconscious, is the god Eros - Cupid in Latin - and can be recognized by his wings and his quiver filled with arrows. The girl’s name is Psyche. Cupid’s mother Venus, goddess of Beauty, demanded that Psyche bring back a flask from the Underworld, strictly forbidding her to open it.
But Psyche’s curiosity got the better of her; and no sooner had she had breathed in the terrible fumes than she fell into a deep, deathlike sleep. Seeing her lying motionless, Cupid rushed to her and touched her gently with the tip of his arrow, to make sure she was not dead. This is the moment caught by the sculptor: Cupid lifts his beloved Psyche in a tender embrace, his face close to hers. Psyche lets herself sink slowly backwards, languorously taking her lover’s head between her hands.
Canova took his inspiration from a legend recounted by Latin author Apuleius in the Metamorphoses At the close of the tale the gods decide in council to grant Cupid Psyche’s hand in marriage, according her immortality and making her the goddess of the Soul.




A complex composition
Canova seems to have undertaken extensive research before beginning this complex composition, whose inspiration is a Roman painting found in Herculaneum, a city the sculptor visited during his stay in Naples in 1787. Canova copied the man’s kneeling position exactly, together with the woman’s reclining pose and the movement of her arms. He then modeled numerous clay figures, gradually bringing out the intertwining of the bodies. In his sketches, drawings, and models of loving couples we sense struggle as much as embrace. This may intimate the episode in which Cupid, stung by the drop of hot oil, suddenly wrenches himself free of Psyche’s arms.
Canova also made many studies of the position of the arms as they prepare to close in a circular movement. The interplay of the arms and the exchange of looks in this large plaster model of Canova’s Venus Crowning Adonis foreshadow our statue. The composition of the group is to be found in the clay models: on a rock are two intertwined bodies. In the final work, however, the flexing of Cupid’s leg, the upright position of his wings, and the lifting of Psyche’s torso give the composition new upthrust.
The position of the legs of Psyche and Cupid creates a pyramid shape which grounds the composition solidly on the rock. Canova has managed to combine real equilibrium with a powerful, complex rotation. He makes his composition turn: starting from Cupid’s right foot, the upward movement follows the line of their arms in an affirmation of her return to life.
The vertical position of the wings accentuates the rising movement. This is not the case of the plaster model as modified by Adamo Tadolini, on which the smaller, more horizontal wings diminish the ascending spiral effect. The work’s emotional and sensual charge is accentuated by the space between the lovers’ faces. Time seems suspended before the passion of the final embrace. | © Musée du Louvre, Isabelle Leroy-Jay Lemaistre, curator at the Department of Sculptures





Amore e Psiche è un gruppo scultoreo realizzato da Antonio Canova tra il 1788-1793, esposto al Museo del Louvre a Parigi. Ne esiste una seconda versione (1800-1803) conservata all'Ermitage di San Pietroburgo in cui i due personaggi sono raffigurati in piedi e una terza (1796-1800), sempre esposta al Louvre, in cui la coppia è stante. Delle tre versioni, la prima, cronologicamente parlando, è la più famosa e acclamata dalla critica. Da segnalare che presso Villa Carlotta a Tremezzo è visibile una replica della scultura commissionata ad Antonio Canova dal principe russo Yussupoff (oggi conservata al museo Ermitage di San Pietroburgo) eseguita tra il 1818-1820 da Adamo Tadolini, derivata dal modello originale che lo stesso Canova aveva donato all'allievo prediletto Tadolini con l'autorizzazione di trarne quante copie ne volesse.
Analisi dell'operaL'opera rappresenta, con un erotismo sottile e raffinato, il dio Amore mentre contempla con tenerezza il volto della fanciulla amata, ricambiato da Psiche con una dolcezza di pari intensità.
L'opera rispetta i canoni dell'estetica di Winckelmann. Le due figure sono infatti rappresentate nell'atto subito precedente il bacio, un momento carico di tensione, ma privo dello sconvolgimento emotivo che l'atto stesso del baciarsi provocherebbe nello spettatore. La gestualità e il movimento introducono anche la dimensione del tempo eternizzato dall'artista in un attimo sublime, che rimane in sospeso. Anche i personaggi, nei corpi adolescenziali e con le loro forme perfette, sono idealizzati secondo un principio di bellezza assoluta e spirituale. Il gruppo scultoreo è posto, con il consenso dell'autore, su una pedana rotante, in modo che lo spettatore possa coglierne in pieno i pregi formali. Le due figure si intersecano tra di loro formando una X morbida e sinuosa che dà luogo ad un'opera che libra nello spazio.
La scultura è realizzata in marmo bianco, levigato e finemente tornito, sperimentando con successo il senso della carne, che Canova mirava ad ottenere nelle proprie opere. La monocromia, in contrasto alla drammaticità e al pittoricismo barocco, è un canone del neoclassicismo che Canova riprende per menomare la carica espressiva.
L'opera Amore e Psiche del 1788 è un capolavoro nella ricerca d'equilibrio. In questo squisito arabesco, infatti, le due figure sono disposte diagonalmente e divergenti fra loro. Questa disposizione piramidale dei due corpi è bilanciata da una speculare forma triangolare costituita dalle ali aperte di Amore. Le braccia di Psiche invece incorniciano il punto focale, aprendosi a mo' di cerchio attorno ai volti. All'interno del cerchio si sviluppa una forte tensione emotiva in cui il desiderio senza fine di Eros è ormai vicino allo sprigionamento.
L'elegante fluire delle forme sottolinea la freschezza dei due giovani amanti: è qui infatti rappresentata l'idea di Canova del bello, ovvero sintesi di bello naturale e di bello ideale.

Particolare del bacio
La scena, tratta dalla leggenda di Apuleio, appartiene alle allegorie mitologiche della produzione del Canova e per queste radici si accomuna al gruppo di Apollo e Dafne del Bernini, benché si differenzi dalle intenzioni di quest'ultimo (che desiderava suscitare stupore e meraviglia), allorché in Amore e Psiche si percepisce la tensione verso la perfezione classica ed una protesta contro la finzione, l'artificio ed il vuoto virtuosismo barocco. Ciononostante, quando l'opera venne esposta venne giudicata troppo barocca e berniniana, come era già accaduto per Ebe, criticata perché si poggiava su una nuvola.