Antonio Canova and his sensitivity in the butterfly of “Cupid and Psyche”
Antonio Canova, who lived at the turn of the 19th century, is the greatest sculptor of my adoptive land, the Veneto region.
Man of humble origins, he lost his father at a very young age, once his mother remarried after a short time, he was left to the foster care of his paternal grandfather, who raised him very strictly.
A great merit of his grandfather, a skilled stonecutter, is having been the one who introduced the young Antonio to the art of forming stone, and who understood his vocation for sculpture.
Already at the age of eighteen, Canova with his first works, showed the world his great talent and became in few years the most quoted sculptor of all European Courts, his sensitivity in working marble is still legend.
Looking at his creation “standing Cupid and Psyche” (sculpture in which the two characters “Cupid” and “Psyche” are standing near each other, that differs from the other two where both subjects are laying with their arms gently wrapped around each other) we can see how Psyche gently lays a butterfly on Cupid’s hand, holding it with her fingers by the wings. This one is not the most famous work, but it shows how sensitive Canova was, when sculpting marble.
He was able to express this attitude even in his day life, once he became famous and reached a considerable economical condition, he always used his position to discreetly help emerging artists, who demonstrated ability in working with their hands, trying to convince Lords and Gentlemen he frequented, to commission their works to those who needed it.
Canova himself commissioned some works to artists fallen into disgrace, in following history we will find a proof of his great sensitivity:
A painter, not a very talented one, received no commissions and felt into poverty, for pride and modesty he didn’t want to accept any charity and tried to make ends meet with small expedients, to avoid his family to suffer from hunger.
Having heard about that, Canova, who knew him as a good and honest man, was impressed by his intransigence and decided to help him, so he wrote the following note:
My esteemed Lord,
It has been a long time now, that I desire a painting made by your illustrious person. I know you, Milord, as a man of great knowledge so I kindly ask you to choose a topic to your liking and paint it in all the time you need.
It pains me to inform you that I can not spend more than 400 ecu, half of which will be paid by the bearer of this letter. The rest can be collected at my place whenever you decide.
How much delicacy there is in knowing how to carve a butterfly in the hands of two lovers, charitably respecting the dignity of others?