“The point of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance.” -Aristotle
‘Cupid and Psyche’ (1786-1793) by Antonio Canova:
A bit of a background on Canova:
Antonio Canova was a neoclassical sculpture, born in 1757 in a small village in the Republic of Venice. Canova is famous for his sculptures of delicate nudes. His early works displayed elements of both Baroque art as well as rococo art. For example, his sculpture titled “Daedalus and Icarus” is carved in Baroque style while “Orpheus” and “Eurydice” are in rococo style. Canova didn’t get into neoclassical art until his visits to Rome in 1779 and 1781 where he was influenced by English neo-classicists like Gavin Hamilton.
Quick excerpt on neoclassical art: neoclassicism reflected a desire to rekindle the spirit and forms of the classical art forms of ancient Greece and Rome- they were serious, unemotional and sternly heroic. Quite the opposite of the Baroque and rococo styles. Sculptors often dealt with the same subjects, however they were more restrained than the dramatic Baroque sculptures and less whimsical than the rococo works.
His neoclassical work “Apollo Crowning Himself” (1781) was submitted as part of a competition and is now known as one of the greatest male nudes in all of art history- it also helped define the neoclassical style. After carving “Apollo Crowning Himself”, he carved “Theseus and the Minotaur” (1781), which helped establish his reputation.
Now onto “Cupid and Psyche” (1786-1793), this sculpture is a combination of classical and erotic style. Cupid and Psyche are turned towards each other in sensual love, as depicted in Greek mythology (neoclassicism!!). The skin draping around Psyche’s lower body shows just how realistic Canova made the marble look. The rough texture of the rock isn’t evident in the fine lines and curls that make up Cupid’s hair was well as the feathers in his wings. (Also, if you want the full story behind “Cupid and Psyche”, please comment so I can add it!)
Criticism of “Cupid and Psyche” stems from the fact that this sculpture must be viewed while walking around it- there is no single perspective to view it from. I think that by not having a single perspective, people are forced to walk around and observe the effort that Canova put into this chunk of marble and the beauty that he created. I also think that by walking around and viewing from different perspectives, the audience feels something different every time they view this piece. If you ever go to the Louvre, go check out this piece from different perspectives- I think you’ll appreciate this piece no matter what the viewpoint is.
This post is probably way too long and very boring, but I had all this information lying around in my notebook- I felt I just had to get it out. Also, I sound like a huge nerd right now, but yes, I do have a notebook full of art history that I update frequently- for some reason I now find art history to be really interesting (probably because of White Collar- and my parents said that I wouldn’t learn anything from TV). For those of you that have actually read all of this, sorry for the long boring post. I promise I’ll tell a funny (embarrassing for me) story next time.
Till next time.
**Just a little side note on Baroque and rococo art: Baroque art started in the late 1500’s and continued until the early 1700’s and is characterized by its ornate detail. The art during this time reflected the religious tensions- especially the desire of the Catholic Church in Rome to reassert itself in the wake of Protestant Reformation (which was synonymous with Catholic Counter Reformation. Rococo art flourished in the 18th century and was entered in France as the reaction of the Baroque grandeur of King Louis XIV’s royal court at Versailles. It is often associated with Louis XIV’s mistress, Madame Pompadour and is known for its whimsical and elaborately decorative style.