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Work Cupid Playing with a Butterfly

Department of Sculptures: France, 19th century


© 2011 Musée du Louvre / Thierry Ollivier

France, 19th century

Montalbetti Valérie

Cupid, a winged adolescent, offers a rose to a butterfly he is holding by the wings. The butterfly, a prisoner, symbolizes the soul (Psyche in Greek). The theme inspired Chaudet to create a graceful composition, whose linear harmony and delicate details are heightened by his beautiful treatment of the marble.

A pastoral Cupid

Cupid is portrayed as a naked, unarmed adolescent whose sole attributes are his short wings. Neither impish like Bouchardon's Cupid (Louvre) nor menacing like Falconet's (Louvre), he seems to be engrossed in an innocent pastime. His amusement is not as harmless as it seems, though; the butterfly allowing itself to be seduced by his rose symbolizes the soul, Psyche in Greek. Imprisoned by Cupid, the soul soon experiences love's torments rather than its pleasures. The graceful bas-relief friezes on the base develop the theme: if the butterfly tastes the juice of a basket of flowers, it is pinned down by chubby little cupids, one of whom enslaves it by harnessing it to his chariot. But the soul finally triumphs thanks to the bees: infuriated by the arrows shot at their hive, they swarm all over the cheeky imps. These scenes are inspired by the Idylls of Theocritus (3rd century BC), the most famous Greek poet of the Alexandrian era, and the delicateness of the carving expresses all their bucolic charm.

A delicately composed myth

The myth of Cupid and Psyche was very important during the neoclassical period; the Italian sculptor Canova executed two verisons, one of which, the famous Eros and Psyche (1793), is in the Louvre. For Chaudet the theme was an opportunity to create a delicate composition dominated by harmonious contours and almost translucent polished marble. The pose's elegance is remininiscent of certain classical and Renaissance sculptures, such as Ponce Jacquiot's Girl Extracting a Thorn (Louvre, RF 3455).

Halfway between nature and the ideal

The pose, the almost suave charm of the face, the delicate fingers, the refined treatment of the hair: everything expresses sensitivity, reserve, and grace. The sculptor has achieved a subtle balance between nature and the ideal, inherited from the 18th century. The plaster model was shown at the 1802 Salon, but the marble was not completed until 1817, seven years after Chaudet's death, by his friend Pierre Cartelier (1757-1831).
Chaudet succeeded in expressng the two contradictory aspects of the renaissance of classicism, the graceful poetry of Cupid and virile, monumental sculpture exalting heroism in the manner of Oedipus and Phorbas (Musée du Louvre, RF 384).

Technical description

  • Antoine-Denis CHAUDET (Paris, 1763 - Paris, 1810)



  • Marble

    H. 0.77 m; W. 0.64 m; D. 0.44 m

  • L.L. 56

  • Sculptures

    Richelieu wing
    Ground floor
    Room 225

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