Antonio Canova (Italian, 1757–1822)
53 x 59 1/2 x 32 in. (134.6 x 151.1 x 81.3 cm)
Gift of Isidor Straus, 1905 (05.46)
The love affair between Cupid and Psyche is one of the best known classical myths, recounted in the Latin novel The Golden Ass by Apuleius. Many Neoclassical paintings and sculptures derived inspiration from the story. Cupid, lover of the mortal Psyche, forbids her to cast eyes upon him and visits her only at night. Disobeying him, Psyche holds a light over his sleeping body, for which she is punished by Aphrodite. The scene conveyed by this modello is of Psyche being rescued in Cupid's embrace.
The original Cupid and Psyche, commissioned in 1787 by Scottish patron John Campbell while on his Grand Tour, was completed in 1793 and is presently at the Louvre. This modello was prepared for Canova's slightly different second version (showing Psyche with butterfly wings) made for Prince Nicolas Youssoupov and now in the Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg. It was inherited by Canova's assistant, Adamo Tadolini (17881868), who used it to prepare additional versions. The metal pins distributed over the surface were inserted to assist the sculptor in transferring the complex group's precise form from plaster to the marble block out of which the final sculpture would be carved, by means of the pointing system.