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Polidoro da Caravaggio (c. 1495-Messina 1543)

Psyche Abandoned c.1527-8

RCIN 402919

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This panel painting by Polidoro da Caravaggio forms part of a series of nine. The series is made up of three large scenes from the story of Cupid and Psyche and six narrow ornamental 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 story of Cupid and Psyche comes from Chapter vii of Apuleius’s ‘Golden Ass’. The episode illustrated here shows Psyche abandoned on a rock in the sea rather than on a mountain; her parents, the King and Queen, are being rowed back to the shore. Above, Psyche is being wafted away by the West Wind or Zephyr. The panels are obviously decorative and were probably painted in situ for an item of furniture or the panelling of a room. John Shearman discussed the possibility that the paintings were part of the decoration of a bed, the love story of Cupid and Psyche being an appropriate subject for a bedchamber. The difficulty comes when trying to match this set of panels with the design of contemporary beds or other types of decorated furniture. The standard bed of the day (lettiera) tended to be decorated with fine woodwork rather than painted decoration, as did its fashionable replacement, the four-poster, illustrated by Sodoma in his ‘Alexander Visiting Roxana’ of c.1511 (Villa Farnesina, Rome). The use of pine for these panels would probably not have been prestigious enough as a material for a bed. The chests put around the sides of beds (cassapanche) could have painted panels, as could the tall backs of ‘day-beds’ (lettucci): Botticelli’s ‘Primavera’ is now thought to have been fixed to the wall above a lettuccio. Vasari mentions that Florentine artists painted narrative scenes with figures ‘not only on cassoni [wedding chests], but also lettucci, on wall-panels and friezes’. The most celebrated decoration of a bedchamber was that commissioned in 1515 by Pierfrancesco Borgherini for the Medici Palace in via Larga, Florence. Panels by Granacci, Bacchiacca and Pontormo illustrating the story of Joseph survive; they may have surrounded the bed and been placed above it.