Cupid and Psyche

7:00 AM

Jacques Louis David,  Cupid and Psyche, 1817

Girl, would you look at that body? Perhaps Jacques Louis David's funniest painting, Cupid and Psyche depicts the beginning of the couple's tumultuous relationship. "Tumultuous?" you may well ask. "How is this tumultuous? A handsome young man and his fair skinned maiden just waking up from a light night 'tumble,' all seems right to me." And that it should. David has gone out of his way to spice up the allegory from Metamorphoses, and has done so brilliantly. It's nothing too glaring: Just a smug grin on cupid's face, a gentle moving of the lover's arm, an open window and a winged rogue to escape through it. These details are what first made me love this painting.

The story behind the work is a wonder in and of itself: Once, a king and queen raised had three daughters, the youngest by the name of Psyche. Psyche was so beautiful that the people of the kingdom gave offerings to her instead of Venus, the goddess of love and beauty. Of course, this made Venus pretty upset, and so she asked Cupid to enact some sort of punishment upon the young girl. Cupid, like any good henchman, falls in love with the young girl instead.

 Basically, time goes on, Cupid doesn't do his job, doesn't claim Psyche for himself, and eventually people start to wonder why Psyche hasn't been married. An oracle cries wolf - or rather unholy dragon offspring - and Psyche is whisked away to a mansion in the middle of nowhere where an invisible Cupid seduces her and makes her his wife. All right, all right, let's get to the good parts by doing this middle bit quick: Cupid leaves every morning before sunset (again, note the pleased grin), all goes well until Psyche's sister comes to visit and insists that Psyche look upon her lover. Cupid is so hot that she spills hot lamp oil all over him and he runs away. Smooth.

So while Cupid runs home and sobs into his manicured hands, Psyche wanders the earth looking for him. She tries in vain to call on the help of the goddesses Ceres and Juno, and finally offers her service to Venus herself. Venus gives her three tasks of increasing difficulty, and Psyche finds herself constantly wishing for death, but each time she is saved by an animal or talking object that encourages her to keep going. Finally, after completing these first three trials, Psyche is tasked with traveling to the underworld to borrow some of the queen of the underworld's beauty. She performs her task beautifully until she opens the box and falls into a deep cursed sleep.

"Oh no!" you may say, but fear not! True love wins out in the end as always. Cupid finally nurses his "wounds" and comes to wake Psyche with ambrosia, the drink of immortality. The two are married and give birth to a beautiful daughter. Note: Daughter. Not a scary dragon.

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