Cupid and Psyche Standing, the sculpture by Antonio Canova, and Cupid and Psyche, a painting by François Gérard, will be exhibited together for the first time in the Sala Alessi of the Palazzo Marino in Milan, from 1 December 2012 to 13 January 2013.
This extraordinary exhibition is dedicated to the masterpieces by two of the leading exponents of Neoclassicism and inspired by the myth of Cupid and Psyche, from Apuleius' Metamorphoses, composed in the second century AD, and a source of inspiration in literature and art, particularly in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, when the myth enjoyed a phase of great popularity due to its closeness to neoclassical and, subsequently, romantic sensibilities.
The sculpture by Antonio Canova Cupid and Psyche Standing, completed in 1797, fixed the aesthetic reference of "his gods" characterised by sweetness and sensual beauty. The painting Psyche et l'Amour by Francois Gerard, was completed one year later and is clearly inspired by the work of Canova but also features and eroticism that ensured the work’s great success.
The exhibition, curated by Valeria Merlini and Daniela Storti, has been integrated with educational and video content, both online and with a dedicated app, video and analysis on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and Foursquare and laboratories especially organised for primary and middle schools.
The exhibition catalogue, edited by Vincent Pomarède, Valeria Merlini and Daniela Storti, is published by Rubettino Editore.
Speech by Paolo Scaroni, Chief executive, Eni
"Milan has always been a city of reference for Eni. Our roots, our history, our identity are here. Dialogue with this area is easy, almost natural, and we know and appreciate the great capacity to respond to quality cultural events. It is now five years the first Christmas exhibition held in the Sala Alessi of Palazzo Marino. Since then, our relationship with the City of Milan has continuously improved, as we are both committed to the dissemination of what for us is a value for the community: culture. Eni has contributed technical and managerial skills to create an encounter which, as Christmas approaches, the city recognises and appreciates. The City has provided the wonderful space of the Sala Alessi and given us its full support in the preparation of the exhibition’s many side events. Finally, the Musée du Louvre, in a consolidated partnership, has worked with us to ensure the success of the exhibition. Three organisations that believe in the importance of an event of this kind and committed, each in its own way, to offering citizens an event of cultural significance.
On the strength of this partnership, compared with previous editions, we wanted to introduce yet another "variation on a theme": two exceptional artists - Canova and Gérard - who, using different techniques, attempted an interpretation of the same theme, the myth of Cupid and Psyche.
Free access and background information (for schools and specialists) is our gift to Milan, and identifies us with this extraordinary event. It is an opportunity to reaffirm, even in such difficult times, the ability of business to generate, through art, the ongoing improvement of the society that surrounds it."
Chief executive, Eni
The Cupid and Psyche group of sculptures was commissioned in 1796 by Colonel John Campbell, and completed by Antonio Canova in 1797. The enthusiastic Scottish collector, the future Lord Cawdor, whose financial possibilities were not always up to his ambitions, found himself repeatedly having to sell off his acquisitions even before taking possession of, as happened with Cupid and Psyche which, in 1798, was still in the studio of the Venetian sculptor. Later, in 1801, the work appeared with the other Canova group Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss, in an exhibition at the Castle of Villers-la-Garenne, the home of Murat, who, the following spring, showed the two sculptures to the whole of Paris during a party organised by him in honour of his brother-in-law, the First Consul Napoleon Bonaparte. Both works were later acquired by Napoleon in part payment for the kingdom of Naples, which he ceded to his sister Caroline and her impetuous husband and brought by the Emperor to the Louvre, where they remain. Although well known, it is rare to see the separate group of Cupid and Psyche, with its carved pedestal on which the sculpture was placed by its first owner, exhibited. Decorated with garlands and butterflies in Canova’s workshop, the pedestal, recognisable even in the original drawings, appears for the first time with the sculpture in an exhibition outside the Louvre.
Inspired by the fable also known as the Golden Ass by Apuleius, the group of Cupid and Psyche Standing portrays the moment in which the young girl, covered by a thin veil, places a butterfly, a symbol of her soul, in the hand of Cupid. The young god, a little smaller, rests his head on her shoulder supporting her neck with his right arm. Captured by Canova in marble, this suspended and infinite moment in which the two lovers contemplate their love in divine bliss, does not refer to any specific passage of the text by Apuleius, but to a temporality that is distinct from that of humans, a non-time in which, in a deeply symbolic representation, the couple becomes eternal.
The painting Cupid and Psyche by François Gérard was first shown during the 1798 Salon to great public acclaim. The painting took a long time and was difficult enough to discourage the artist who, according to a source, threatened never to return to his studio and threw away the key. According to Viollet-le-Duc, the picture for three years the work failed to find a buyer, then, in 180, Fontaine and Darcet bought it together. After several changes of ownership, on the artist’s death in 1837, the painting naturally ended up in the Louvre. Ingres considered it one of the most beautiful paintings to be produced by the post-David school.
François Gérard was born in Rome in 1770 to an Italian mother and a French father. He moved with his family to Paris, where he studied under the sculptor Pajou, the painter Brenet and the celebrated David. Already the illustrator of the poem by La Fontaine Les Amours de Psyche et Cupidon with gallant and sensual drawings, in the painting he dealt with same theme in a more modest style befitting the Salon.
According to Landon and Le Breton, Gérard represented the moment when Psyche receives the first kiss from Cupid. It does not seem however that he selected a precise moment from the myth, but rather beginning from the idea that Psyche was prevented from seeing Cupid, he imagined him invisible to her as he was about to kiss her. The demure Psyche crosses her arms under her naked breasts as Cupid gently approaches her. The apparent coldness of the composition, the well-defined contours and meticulous detail highlight the purity of the imagery and the sophistication of the inspiration.
The work is a masterpiece of purist refinement of the late eighteenth century.
Last updated on 30/11/12