Cupid and Psyche

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Jacques Louis-David,Cupid and Psyche, 1817
By ANIRUDH VADLAMANI

Perhaps this is the first time the phrase "Mr. Steal-your-girl" was coined. Cupid has his body positioned around an unsuspecting Psyche, who wraps her hand around his upper thigh, unbeknownst to the sexual context already presented by his smirk and posture. He allows his bow to slip from his back onto the cold floor, sliding into the covers of the maiden. How appropriate of David, in the time of his exile, to paint something so visually pleasing, uncharacteristic of his persona and usual self.

The oil on canvas, standing at 184 cm by 241 cm, was painted by David shortly after the end of the French Revolution and during his early exile in Brussels. David was a successful political painter at this point, and despite his knack for inspiring propaganda, he decided to create this painting to show the government that he was making a transition away from his more somber, moralizing themes of his past. He completed the work in the early months of 1817. Originally, the painting incited a slight rebellion among art critics in Brussels, but as time went on, they found that the younger generation found it pleasing. I can't imagine why.

The story between Cupid and Psyche is strange in itself. Venus, overcome by her jealousy of Psyche's beauty, sends Cupid to make her fall in love with the most grotesque, despicable man she sees. However, upon seeing her, he himself falls in love with her. He snatches her away, locking her away in his palace, making love to her every night. The painting shows him on one of these nights, sneaking away just at the break of dawn, smirking, as she still doesn't know the identity of the man who sleeps with her every night. The painting is strange because in usual lore, Cupid is an adolescent. However, in the picture, he seems to be a grown up man, smirking, as he canoodles with a woman he quite fancies.

I was immediately drawn to the smirk, unbeknownst to me that that young man was Cupid. However, as I looked deeper into the painting, I found Psyche more and more attractive (in the least perverted way possible). Her flesh is pale, however, it exudes beauty and health. Unlike usual paleness which signifies death, her flesh seems lush and beautiful. David does an incredible job showing his fresh start to painting. Who can blame Cupid for being a little self-satisfied?

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