Psyche ๐Ÿฆ‹

Psyche at the well,
Benjamin Edward Spence

Apuleius (c 124 – c 170) lived in provincial North Africa (in present-day Algeria) and was the author of the only surviving complete novel in Latin. His work, entitled Metamorphoses, or alternatively The Golden Ass, includes the tale of Cupid and Psyche as a story within the story.

According to Apuleius’s narrative, Psyche (Roman Anima) is a mortal of unsurpassed beauty, outshining even the goddess of love Venus (Greek Aphrodite) herself. Jealous Venus sends her son Cupid (Greek Eros) to exact revenge by making Psyche fall in love with the most miserable and vilest of men. Cupid, however, falls in love with her himself. He later arranges her rescue from sacrifice to a monster and installs her in a sumptuous palace and visits her there every night. Cupid, however, withholds his true identity and forbids Psyche to look upon him.

Psyche’s scheming elder sisters visit and, jealous of her good fortune, convince her to determine the identity of her host, which must surely be the monster to which she was to be offered, and that she should slay the beast in its slumber. Armed with a dagger and a lamp, Psyche intends to carry out the plan, but when she beholds the god’s beauty she accidentally spills hot oil from the lamp onto Cupid which awakens him. Having discovered his true identity, Psyche is then abandoned by Cupid who flies off.

Distraught, she wanders in search of Cupid, trying in vain to enlist divine help. Finally, she renders herself to Venus, who tortures her and sets her four seemingly impossible tasks. With the help of some supernatural intervention, Psyche succeeds in accomplishing all of these, but in the final one, her curiosity and desires lead to her succumbing to an eternal sleep.

Cupid, now healed from the oil burn, finds Psyche, draws the sleep from her, and petitions Jupiter (Greek Zeus). Jupiter warns Venus off, grants immortality to Psyche, and approves the marriage of Cupid and Psyche. The happy couple have a daughter, Voluptas (Greek Hedone), goddess of pleasure.

3 November 2022

Walker Art Gallery, William Brown Street, Liverpool

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Psyche at the Well
Benjamin Edward Spence (1822 – 1866)
‘Psyche’ was probably the single most popular subject in neo-classical scultpture. John Gibson produced numerous renderings of the story, although Spence’s work probably derives from Thorvaldsen’s statue of ‘Psyche with the jar of Beauty’ (1806). It portrays the episode in Apuleius’s story of ‘Cupid and Psyche’ when Venus has set Psyche the seemingly impossible task of filling a vessel with water from the Styx, a river surrounded by impenetrable rocks and guarded by dragons, and illustrates, in a characteristically poignant image, the story’s theme of trial and humility. Two versions of the work dating from the 1860s are known but the design was probably made early in Spence’s career.

— Information plaque

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Cupid pursuing Psyche
John Gibson (1790 – 1866)
Marble relief (c 1854)

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Love cherishing the Soul, while preparing to torment it
John Gibson (1790 – 1866)
Gibson described his statue as ‘the God Eros caressing a butterfly upon his breast, while with his other hand he is drawing an arrow to pierce it’. The butterfly was a common symbol for the human soul in Roman sculpture and the representation of the goddess Psyche (‘the soul’) with wings is a personification of the same idea. Gibson’s design was first executed in marble for Lord Selsey in 1837 and exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1839. Two copies were made, a tinted version for Mr. Robert Holford of Dorchester House and this one which was for R. V. Yates of Liverpool.

— Information plaque

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Psyche and the Zephyrs
Benjamin Gibson (1811 – 1851)
A copy of a work by John Gibson executed by his ‘pupil and youngest brother’ Benjamin. John designed this group in 1822 for the connoisseur Sir George Beaumont and a replica was made for Prince Torlonia in 1839 (Palazzo Corsini, Rome). Benjamin Gibson made two copies of the work soon after his arrival in Rome in 1837. The present one was made for Richard Yates of Liverpool and was probably exhibited at the Liverpool Academy in 1840. It represents a passage from Apuleius’s story of ‘Cupid and Psyche’. Psyche’s beauty has aroused the envy of goddess Venus and she has been made a sacrifice to a monster: ‘Thus poor Psyche was left alone weeping and trembling in the highest top of the rockโ€ฆ but then there came a gentle air of softly breathing Zephyrs and carried her from the hill, with a meek wind, and little by little brought her down into a deep valley, where she was laid in a soft grassy bed of most sweet and fragrant flowers.’

— Information plaque

Psyche in the temple of love (L) / On the terrace (R)
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Psyche in the temple of love (1882)
Edward John Poynter (1836 – 1919)
Oil paint on canvas

In Roman mythology, Cupid falls in love with Psyche and takes her to a beautiful palace where he visits her every night, but never during the day.

In this painting, Psyche is amusing herself by playing with a butterfly, her usual emblem. Both she and the butterfly symbolised the human soul. Psyche entices the butterfly into the palace with a sprig of honeysuckle. The doves of Venus, Psyche’s great enemy, fly ominously in the background.

On the terrace (1889)
Edward John Poynter (1836 – 1919)
Oil paint on canvas

Scenes of everyday middle-class life in antiquity, often hinting at romantic love, were made popular by Lawrence Alma-Tadema during the 1870s. The palm-leaf fan and the terrace in this picture demonstrate Poynter’s knowledge of the domestic implements and architecture of antiquity.

The boats out to sea and the steps down to the water suggest that the girl is waiting for the arrival of a friend or lover.

[This work features the same model as that in Psyche in the temple of love]

— Information plaques

27 thoughts on “Psyche ๐Ÿฆ‹

    • Very glad you appreciated it. Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting.

      โˆž โ™ก โœฐ โ ๐‘ ๐“‰๐’ฝ๐’ถ๐“ƒ๐“€ ๐“Ž๐‘œ๐“Š ๐‘ โ โœฐ โ™ก โˆž

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Like Resa, I thought you no longer posted here! Hmmm…. and then I saw that for mysterious reasons that only wp knows, I was no longer following you to get notifications!
    What a joy this post is, my friend! ๐Ÿ™๐Ÿ‰๐Ÿ™

    Liked by 1 person

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