Art History 101

5 Things You Need to Know About Cupid

Valeria Kumekina 14 June 2024 min Read

Cupid is the ancient Roman god of love and the counterpart to the Greek god Eros. It’s him who inspires us to fall in love, write love songs and poetry, celebrate Valentine’s Day, and sometimes even suffer. He is often depicted as a little boy with wings and a bow, but is he as innocent as he seems? In this article, we will cover five interesting stories about Cupid.

1. Cupid’s Birth is Veiled in Mystery

Cupid (or Eros), the god of love and desire, first appears in ancient Greek and Roman myths and legends. Various versions of his origin story exist, but none mentions exactly how he was born or who his parents were.

According to one version, Cupid was the son of Venus, the goddess of love, and Mars, the god of war. This version also states that Deimos and Phobos, representing fear and panic, and Harmonia, representing harmony, were born from the same union. These figures symbolize the complex and often conflicting emotions that arise from love and war.

Another version suggests that Cupid was one of the primordial gods born from Chaos. He existed before the creation of the world alongside Gaia and Tartarus. This version establishes the significance of love and desire as fundamental forces in the universe.

In visual art, Cupid is often depicted alongside Venus, as he is not only her son but also her companion.

cupid paintings: Lorenzo Lotto, Venus and Cupid, 1520, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, NY, USA.

Lorenzo Lotto, Venus and Cupid, 1520, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, NY, USA.

Lorenzo Lotto’s 16th-century painting Venus and Cupid features an unusually comical scene. Venus is lying on a luxurious cloth and crowned with a headband, with her son Cupid urinating through a laurel wreath onto her.

What is going on? While it entertains the viewers, this painting is rich in symbolism. Cupid’s actions stands for fertility and desire, while Venus embodies beauty and love. The painting might have been a wedding gift, as giving meaningful and playful art to newlyweds is an Italian custom.

cupid paintings: Paolo Veronese, Venus Disarming Cupid, 1560, Worcester Art Museum, Worcester, MA, USA.

Paolo Veronese, Venus Disarming Cupid, 1560, Worcester Art Museum, Worcester, MA, USA.

In paintings featuring Cupid and Venus, Cupid is often portrayed as a young, chubby boy prone to mischief. For instance, in a painting by Paolo Veronese, we see the mother Venus tenderly taking the bow away from her disobedient son Cupid. Like any ordinary boy, he reaches out to retrieve his dangerous toy.

2. He Has a Brother

According to one version of Greek mythology, Eros, the god of love, had a brother named Anteros. While Eros embodied passionate and often blind love, Anteros was responsible for mutual affection and punished those who mocked love.

Cupid, or Eros, was depicted as fair-haired, while Anteros had dark hair. Due to the scarcity of information about Anteros, it is believed that his image eventually merged with that of Cupid. However, images of Anteros can still be found in ancient art.

cupid paintings: Camillo Procaccini, Eros and Anteros, 17th century, National Museum of Fine Arts, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Camillo Procaccini, Eros and Anteros, 17th century, National Museum of Fine Arts, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

3. His Arrows Can Be Punishment

Cupid is a boy with wings who shoots arrows from a bow kept in his quiver. There are two types of arrows that the Roman god of love uses: gold-tipped arrows, which awaken love and desire, and lead-tipped arrows, which cause disgust and hatred.

Apollo, the god of light, was once hit by one of those arrows as he was mocking Eros and looking down upon the winged boy’s prowess as an archer. This infuriated Eros. So he shot a golden arrow at Apollo and a lead arrow at a nymph named Daphne. As a result, Apollo fell in love with Daphne and pursued her, but she, not wanting to be with him, asked her father (Peneus, the river god) for help. Her father, hearing her plea, granted her wish and transformed her into a beautiful laurel tree.

cupid paintings: Peter Paul Rubens, Apollo and the Python, 1636-1638, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, Spain.

Peter Paul Rubens, Apollo and the Python, 1636-1638, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, Spain.

This Rubens painting captures the moment when Cupid aims his arrow at Apollo, who has just defeated the serpent, Python, with his bow. The hero and monster slayer was instantly rendered powerless.

The tale of Apollo and Daphne illustrates how Cupid (or Eros) must not be taken lightly.

4. He Fell in Love

Being the god of love, Cupid was also not immune to strong feelings himself. Assigned by Venus to make Psyche, a beautiful mortal girl, fall in love with a terrible man, he found himself captivated by Psyche’s beauty and instead fell for her. Their love story unfolds with intriguing twists, which you can explore in this article.

Rest assured, the tale concludes happily, with Cupid and Psyche marrying and residing together on Olympus. From their union, Voluptas, the goddess of pleasure, was born.

Cupid plays a significant role in this story. Him and his beloved are frequent motifs in paintings and sculptures across different periods, from the Classical era to Baroque art.

AdVertisment

5. Cupid as a Boy and as a Teenager

The Roman god of love is frequently portrayed as a youthful winged boy bearing arrows, serving as an allegory for love. In some depictions, Cupid is wearing a blindfold, representing the notion that love is blind. An example of this can be observed in Botticelli’s Spring (La Primavera).

AdVertisment

However, you can also find a teenage god of love in a Caravaggio painting, for example. The artist portrayed the god of love as a dashing teenager. Naughty and chubby, Cupid has grown up and gazes at us with a mischievous squint and smile, seemingly unbothered by the chaos in the background that he has probably created.

cupid paintings: Caravaggio, Amor Vincit Omnia, ca. 1601, Gemäldegalerie, Berlin, Germany.

Caravaggio, Amor Vincit Omnia, ca. 1601, Gemäldegalerie, Berlin, Germany.

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