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Polidoro da Caravaggio (c.1499-c.1543)

Cupids with Swans c. 1527-8

Oil on panel | 30.2 x 141.9 cm (support, canvas/panel/stretcher external) | RCIN 402873

West Closet, Hampton Court Palace

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  • The story of Cupid and Psyche comes from Chapter vii of Apuleius’s 'Golden Ass'. The episode illustrated here shows a swan-hunt: on the right two putti (one winged) in a tub attempt to net swans, one of which flies away; a putto in the centre is dressing, standing on the bank; left of the centre are two more (one winged) struggling with a swan; on the left a cupid is pushing a swan into a cage under what appears to be a decoy.

    This ornamental frieze by Polidoro da Caravaggio forms part of a series of nine panels, made up of three large scenes from the story of Cupid and Psyche and six narrow friezes. They are first recorded when acquired in 1637 by Charles I. There is no documentation of the original commission and no way of telling if the set of nine is complete, although the three Psyche scenes make what could be a stand-alone group of highlights from the story. The panels are obviously decorative and were probably painted in situ for an item of furniture or the panelling of a room; they were perhaps part of the decoration of a bed, the love story of Cupid and Psyche being an appropriate subject for a bedchamber.

    The painting appears in Pyne's illustrated 'Royal Residences' of 1819, hanging in The Queen's Drawing Room at Kensington Palace (RCIN 922152).
    Provenance

    Acquired by Charles I in 1637; recorded in the Third Privy Lodging Room at Whitehall in 1639 (no 10); sold as a set of six for £140 to Hadnott on 17 May 1650; recovered at the Restoration and listed in the Green Chamber at Whitehall in 1666 (no 249)

  • Medium and techniques

    Oil on panel

    Measurements

    30.2 x 141.9 cm (support, canvas/panel/stretcher external)

    39.5 x 157.3 cm (frame, external)

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    Object type(s)
    Subject(s)