According to legend, Psyche was a beautiful young girl—so lovely, in fact, that Venus herself was jealous of the girl’s comeliness. Thus, she sent her son Eros (Cupid to the Romans), god of love, to sabotage the girl and make her fall in love with a hideous creature. However, the fumbling young god was himself taken with the girl’s beauty and stuck himself with his own arrow, thereby causing his scheming mother’s plan to backfire. The young lovers have been the subject of artists for nearly as long as the myth itself has existed. Some artists portrayed the two as adolescents and others have depicted them as children. Among the oddest of these portrayals are the ones which show Psyche as a young woman while keeping Eros in the form of a small boy. Among the oldest of artworks featuring Eros and Psyche the two seem to be of ambiguous age.
In this sculpture, which dates from about 2nd to 1st century BCE, the lovers are very clearly shown as preadolescent children:
The Cupid and Psyche pair appear on both ends of the side of this sarcophagus:
Now we jump a few centuries ahead.
Otto Van Veen, known also under the latinized form of his name Octavius Vaenius, produced a book of images starring Eros and Psyche as children in 1615, entitled Amorus Divini Emblemata. Here’s a compilation of several of them:
Here they are adolescents:
Dante Alighieri is of course best known for penning the epic poem The Divine Comedy. What many people may not know is that Dante fell in love with his muse Beatrice Portinari when both were just children. He describes their meeting in La Vita Nuova:
Nine times already since my birth the heaven of light had almost revolved to the self-same point when my mind’s glorious lady first appeared to my eyes, she who was called by many Beatrice (‘she who confers blessing’), by those who did not know what it meant to so name her. She had already lived as long in this life as in her time the starry heaven had moved east the twelfth part of one degree, so that she appeared to me almost at the start of her ninth year, and I saw her almost at the end of my ninth. She appeared dressed in noblest colour, restrained and pure, in crimson, tied and adorned in the style that then suited her very tender age. At that moment I say truly that the vital spirit, that which lives in the most secret chamber of the heart began to tremble so violently that I felt it fiercely in the least pulsation, and, trembling, it uttered these words: ‘Ecce deus fortior me, qui veniens dominabitur michi: Behold a god more powerful than I, who, coming, will rule over me.
Dante’s love was unrequited, but his fascination with the girl continued for the rest of his life. Beatrice, who eventually married a banker, died at the age of 24.
By toemailer on March 29, 2001
Wow, that sure is a different style, very interesting!