Since Valentine’s Day is coming up, I thought I could talk about someone who many people associate with love…Cupid! He is very popular in Greek and Roman mythology. For the Greeks, Cupid was called the god of love. He went by the name Eros, which meant love of the sex or sexual acts. In Rome, the Romans called him Amor, meaning love, and Cupido, meaning desire.
In Greek mythology, Eros is seen as the youngest of the gods. Many scholars, even the Greeks, were unsure of where Eros came from. He may have come from Heaven and Earth, Ares and Aphrodite, or other gods.
In Roman mythology, Cupid is usually seen as the son of Venus, the goddess of love and beauty. Seneca, a Roman philosopher, believed that Cupid came from Venus and Vulcan, the god of fire. Cicero, another Roman philosopher, believed there were three Cupids (interesting how three is a number used in other religions as well), and three Venuses.
There are also instances when later in classical mythology, Cupid is seen as the son of Venus and Mars, the god of war. Possibly creating the idea that love can have it’s ups and downs.
Cupid is usually shown as a young boy or baby with an arrow(s) and a bow. Sometimes he is depicted as an elderly boy. Usually anyone hit with his arrow (a golden one) would gain an overwhelming feeling of love. Other times, when people got hit with a lead arrow, they would feel hatred.
In some artworks, Cupid has different themes. Usually they are about love and desire. However, the themes can also be folly and disaster.
Bronzino, Venus, Cupid, Folly and Time, 1545
This particular artwork is a little disturbing. The two center figures are Venus and Cupid, they seem to be embracing each other. Venus is holding a golden apple, which she won in the Judgement of Paris. And Cupid has his characteristic wings. Both these figures are the brightest in the painting, which puts emphasis on them. On the top right is Time, with the hourglass behind him. It may be Time telling the viewer that time is slowly running out (in everyone’s lives). He also appears to be covering someone in the top right corner. This could be Oblivion, a visual representation of nothingness. To the right of Cupid and Venus is Folly. The figure behind Folly could be a representation of Pleasure and Fraud. To the left of Cupid is the depiction of Jealousy.
In essence, this is an allegory. There is a lot of scholarly work still being done on this work, so most of this work is just a guess except for Venus and Cupid.
Raphael, The Triumph of Galatea, 1514
This fresco painting is from a series that was meant to beautify the open gallery for the Villa Farnesina. This scene comes from the story of the Galatea, a spirit from the sea (sea nymph), and Acis, a peasant shepherd, in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. However, this scene does not focus on the love story of Acis and Galatea. Here Galatea is surrounded by other sea animals. She is the figure in the middle, on a shell that is being guided by two dolphins. She is meant to represent pure ideal beauty during the Renaissance era. To the right of the painting, there are two Tritons, which are part man, part fish creatures, and they are messengers of the sea. One is taking/abducting a sea nymph. Another is using a shell as a trumpet. Two puttis, or baby cupids, are pointing at Galatea. One looks as though it is pointing towards the left at the giant Polyphemus and a lady (who could be another version of Galatea). The giant is singing a love song.