The Romans perceived of the youthful god of desire as a mischievous, cherubic child at play. Cupid often appears, iconographically, as a companion to his mother, the goddess Venus. Although no temples were dedicated to this young deity in antiquity, he was both venerated and dreaded, for through his enchanting arrows he held sway over the potent force of love. In this playful and deceptively innocent body came a great intensity of power over human emotion, for, as the human race has always known, amor omnia vincit, love conquers all.
In the present example, Cupid is sensitively sculpted as a paunchy young boy with tousled hair and full cheeks. His nude body twists as he reaches upward with his now-missing right arm. In his lowered left arm, he cradles his torch, an allusion to love’s ability to enflame the heart. The remains of his wings protrude from his shoulder blades, which allow him to alight upon his prey unbeknownst.
This statue may have originally been free-standing, possibly a purely decorative addition to a private villa. It may have also been part of a more elaborate sculptural scheme that included Venus as the main focus. In fact, Cupid can be found in Roman art accompanying even the Emperor Augustus, as we find on the celebrated Prima Porta portrait, which depicts Cupid riding a dolphin at the emperor’s right foot. The presence of Cupid or his mother in early imperial art was imbued with political connotations, as the Julio-Claudian Dynasty claimed descent from Venus herself.
Private Collection (K.A.), Belgium, 1990s.
German Art Market, 2000s.