Cupid and Psyche

The story of Cupid and Psyche, from the Ancient Roman text The Golden Ass by Apuleius, has frequently been depicted in art. The narrative follows Psyche, who represents the soul, as she overcomes many obstacles to find and marry Cupid. She is often shown with butterfly wings because the butterfly was a traditional emblem for the soul.

This story saw a particular revival in neoclassical sculpture, after being the subject of Canova’s Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss (1793). Indeed, by 1827 there were so many versions that Tullio Dandolo wrote in the journal Il Tiberino that he could retell the whole story simply by describing the various statues by his contemporaries. Gibson was fascinated by the tale and explored it in his third life-size marble statue Psyche borne by the Zephyrs (1821–27), as well as in many drawings and reliefs.

Throughout his life, Gibson experimented with drawings of the narrative scenes from Cupid and Psyche. Stored in his studio in large albums and portfolios, they served as design books for visitors and patrons to browse.

Gibson’s compositions show his profound engagement with the story and his exploration of different styles and ideas. His various versions of the Marriage of Cupid and Psyche specifically reveal his interest in the reliefs of Bertel Thorvaldsen, such as Cupid revives Psyche (1810) in the Thorvaldsens Museum, Copenhagen.

A series of Gibson’s compositions was published to illustrate Elizabeth Strutt’s book The Story of Cupid and Psyche in 1851. Gibson stated in a letter to Henry Sandbach that she had asked him to produce drawings for the book but, having no time to execute new ones, he gave her examples he already had.