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The Story of Cupid and Psyche, c.1695–7

In 1694 Luca Giordano was appointed painter to Charles II of Spain. This set of paintings on copper illustrates the story of Cupid and Psyche from the Golden Ass by the 2nd century writer Apuleius, which was well known at the Spanish court. The series may be unfinished, as the twelve surviving paintings tell only half the story. This is rare for Giordano, whose facility with a brush was legendary – he was called ‘Luca fa presto’ (‘Luca the fast worker’). The Story Psyche is so beautiful that the jealous goddess Venus commands her son Cupid to make her fall in love with an unworthy man. However, Cupid falls in love with Psyche himself. Concerned about Psyche’s lack of suitors, her parents consult the oracle of Apollo. They are told that Psyche’s future husband is a monster and that she must be abandoned on top of a mountain. The west wind, Zephyrus, saves her and carries her to Cupid’s palace. Cupid visits Psyche only at night and forbids her to make any attempt to see him. Psyche is curious about her lover’s appearance and fearful after her two jealous sisters convince her that Cupid is a serpentine monster. Urged on by them she conceals a lamp and knife in her bedchamber. When Cupid is asleep, Psyche illuminates his beautiful figure with the lamp but a drop of hot oil accidentally wakes him. Angrily he flies off with Psyche clinging desperately to his ankle. Psyche tries to drown herself but Pan tells her to win back Cupid’s love. Venus sets Psyche a series of increasingly difficult tasks. Although Psyche fails the final task, the gods make her immortal and she is reunited with Cupid.

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