Hugh Douglas Hamilton, 1740-1808
Cupid and Psyche in the Nuptial Bower, 1792-1793
Oil on canvas, 198 x 151 cm
Presented, Friends of the National Collections of Ireland, 1956
The classical myth of Cupid's love for Psyche stirred the imagination of many artists in the eighteenth century. In spite of the title, Hamilton's interpretation seems to show an earlier episode in the story. The scene is a woodland setting at night. The figures are placed in front of a large tree over which is placed a red canopy. In the background is a lake-side. The youthful, handsome Cupid sits on the bank by the tree and gently draws Psyche towards him. In spite of her hesitancy the love of the two is evident. This work was inspired by a sculpture of the same subject by Antonio Canova, who was working in Rome during Hamilton's last years in that city. Canova's neo-classical forms are recalled in the smooth, idealised figures of the young lovers.
The mythological theme of the painting is reinforced with symbolism. Both figures are winged, Psyche's wings being those of a butterfly, symbol of both the soul and of Psyche in Greek art. In the right foreground of the composition, a real butterfly rests on a rose, an attribute of cupid. In the left foreground his other attributes, the bow and quiver are laid on the ground. Silhouetted against the background on the left is ivy, symbol of immortality.
The painting was exhibited in Dublin in 1800 to great critical acclaim.
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