Psyche et Amor by Francois Gèrard (1798)


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Pictured in this tableau is the famous scene where Psyche, the beautiful princess whose beauty ran afoul of the temperaments of Venus, is surprised and aroused by the first kiss of the invisible Cupid. The antique myth of Cupid and Psyche, first told by the Roman writer Apuleius, is both a love story and a metaphysical allegory: As “psyche” is the Greek word for “soul,” Psyche is the personification of the human soul as it is awakened by the kiss of divine love. Thus the work illustrates neoclassicism’s shift towards sensuality and a certain formal abstraction, or rather the Neoplatonic theme of the human soul and eternal love merged in union. The butterfly hovering over the girl’s head is fittingly referred to as psyche in Ancient Greek and thereby symbolizes the soul’s chrysalis or awakening as well.

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