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Greek Mythology in Art: The God of Love

Throughout art history, the god of love has inspired artists since the time of antiquity. In classic Greek Mythology, Cupid (or Eros) is the god of love, desire and attraction. Cupid is known for hos ability to make both the divine and mortals fall for each other with his gilded arrows. The god is also able to encourage a repulse or disgust so it is very important to remain on his good side. According to Myth, Cupid is the child of Aphrodite, the Goddess of love, beauty and pleasure. Although the identity of his father has been debated, Cupid is believed to be the son of Hermes the winged messenger of the god.

Cupid is often portrayed as a winged infant propped with a bow and quiver filled with golden-tipped arrows, whose prick would inspire love in his victims. Some artists have chosen to suit him with armour, drawing a parallel to Mars, the god of war. This was used to suggest the comparison of romance and warfare.

Cupid trolls a line of being a respected and beneficial character in a story to being compared to a mischievous matchmaker who is often led by his impulsive nature.

Below read about some classic depictions of the winged god throughout art history:

‘Eros,' c. 470 BC–450 BC, unknown, Courtesy of The Louvre

Eros first appeared in art history in the time of Classical Antiquity around 450 BC. In this depiction, Eros is presented as an adolescent with a large set of wings. Interestingly this representation does not adorn him with any other attributes that are often associated with the god of love, such as an arrow and bow.

Majorana, Cristoforo, 1490 - 1510, Unidentified coat of arms on f. 64, Owned 1593 by Marchese Caracciolo of Sirino. Rev. Thomas Crofts sale (1783); bought 1785 by Sir John Peachey; Lord Selsey sale 1872 to Quaritch; Lenox collection. Courtesy of the New York Public Library, Manuscripts and Archives Division

During the Middle Ages, Eros became widely known as Cupid. In this manuscript, Cupid is still depicted as a young child adorned with wings. However, in the typical Medieval style, Cupid is represented as a childlike figure with mature features. This style of representing children was driven by the Christian belief that Jesus had arrived in mature form rather than as a baby and was adopted by many artists of the time.

Raphael, ‘The Voyage of Galatea,' 1511, Fresco, 295 x 225 cm, Villa Farnesina, Rome

During the Italian Renaissance, many artists began to include several Cupids within a painting. Originally these small winged figures were known as amorini and were found in many mythological and even biblical scenes at the time.

Antonio Canova, Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss, 1787-1793, Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art

In Canova's classic sculpture of Psyche and Cupid, he captures the two's epic love story. After a prophecy declared that Psyche would become more beautiful, a jealous Aphrodite sends her to retrieve a package from Hades. After opening the vial given to her, Psyche inhaled a vapour that collapsed her into a deadly sleep that only Cupid could break. Cupid kissed her and brought her back to life. In the sculpture, Cupid is recognizable by his arrow and quiver resting on the rock where Psyche lies.

Paul Cézanne, ‘Still Life with Plaster Cupid,' 1894, Courtesy of The Courtauld, London.

In this Post-Impressionism masterpiece, Cézanne found a way to merge classical art and mythology. During this period Post-Impressionist artists usually found inspiration in daily life. Although this painting features a classical subject, a 17th-century plaster of Cupid is represented as an everyday object.

Pablo Picasso, Musketeer and Amor, painting on canvas, 1969

In 1969, Picasso also used Cupid as a motif in his painting, Musketeer and Amor. In this painting, Cupid remains ambiguous to the viewer as the only indication of the god of love is represented with the arrows in his hang and suggestion of abstracted wings.

Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, Cupid's Span, 2002, Rincon Park, Stainless steel, structural carbon steel, fibre-reinforced plastic, cast epoxy, polyvinyl chloride foam; painted with polyester gelcoat, 64 ft. x 143 ft. 9 in. x 17 ft. 3/8 in. Commissioned by D&DF Foundation

Today, Cupid is still creatively represented in the art world. This outdoor sculpture by married artists Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen was installed in the Embarcadero in San Francisco in 2002. The single red arrow remains a poignant emblem for the god of love as it is situated in the heart of SF. The arrow implanted in the ground perpetuates the city's romantic reputation as it shoots love into the city.



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