Amor and Psyche
Florence 1540-41 - Rome 1595-96)
It is highly likely that the commissioning of this canvas – the only one signed and dated by the artist – can be connected to the wedding between Ferdinand I de’ Medici and Christina of Lorraine, celebrated in Florence in 1589. Both the date of execution – legible on the quiver at the bottom right – and the actual meaning of the work support this hypothesis, as well as the commission being given to Jacopo Zucchi, a painter who had close ties to the Medici prince for whom he had made several works during his stay in Rome.
The painting depicts the decisive moment in the tale of Cupid and Psyche, from Apuleius’ Metamorphosis, when the maiden, driven by curiosity and encouraged by the evil sisters, decides to learn the identity of the mysterious lover who visits her every day at sunset without showing his face.
Zucchi was renowned for his depictions of mythological subjects. With this work, he proves himself to be a sophisticated painter in step with his times, drawing on Michelangelo Buonarroti and the other Tuscan sculptors of the era, as well as the Nordic tradition in terms of the precision in such details as the flowers, jewellery and fabrics, often painted with the help of his brother Francesco.
19th-century frame decorated with four corner palmettes
Rome, Borghese Collection, 1633 (Corradini 1998; Hermann Fiore 2005; Pierguidi 2014); Inv. 1693, room VI, no. 2; Inv. 1790, room VI, no. 27; Inventario Fidecommissario 1833, p. 34; Inv. 1854, room X, no. 6; purchased by Italian state, 1902.
Sulla faretra in basso a destra: "IAC. ZUC. F. FAC. 1589".
- 1940 Firenze, Palazzo Strozzi;
- 1952 Napoli, Mostra d'Oltremare;
- 1992 Canberra, National Gallery of Australia;
- 1992 Melbourne, National Gallery of Victoria;
- 1993 Roma, Palazzo Venezia;
- 1995 Bruxelles, Palais des Beaux-Arts;
- 1995 Roma, Palazzo delle Esposizioni;
- 1996-1997 Lecce, Fondazione Memmo;
- 1999 Roma, Villa Medici;
- 2005 Firenze, Museo degli Argenti;
- 2005-2006 Firenze, Museo degli Argenti;
- 2010 Milano, Palazzo Reale;
- 2012 Roma, Castel Sant'Angelo;
- 2013-2014 Parigi, Musée du Luxembourg;
- 2017-2018 Firenze, Palazzo Strozzi.
Conservation and Diagnostic
- 2005 Laura Ferretti (pulitura, rimozione vernice alterata e vecchi ritocchi, stuccature, verniciatura).
The painting represents a famous episode narrated by Apuleius in The Golden Ass (Metamorphoses). The extraordinarily beautiful Psyche decides to discover the identity of her young lover by entering his room carrying a razor and an oil lamp. As she approaches the body of the handsome god, she accidently lets fall a drop of boiling oil onto the boy’s shoulder. Upon awakening, he flies away.
Over the centuries, this subject has been treated in different ways by painters. Jacopo Zucchi sets the scene in a luxurious room, framed by a red curtain which highlights the bodies of the two protagonists: Psyche wears only a cord made of pearls and precious stones, while Eros is depicted in a reclining pose which recalls Michelangelo’s River God. As critics have pointed out, the painting has a Florentine air about it, as seen in the elongated bodies, which remind us of Giambologna’s idiom. It further contains allusions to Michelangelo, in particular the feminine figure represented on the headboard of the bed behind the two lovers, which recalls Night, the sculpture executed by Buonarroti to decorate the Medicean tombs in the New Sacristy of San Lorenzo in Florence. In addition, as Kristina Hermann Fiore has observed (2013, p. 45), connections to the Florentine school are evident in the lamp held by Psyche, which is one of the key elements of the painting. It was in fact the symbol of Giorgio Vasari’s Accademia del Disegno, of which Zucchi was a member.
Although the artist and date are certain – the work was signed and dated on the quiver at the bottom right – the painting has given rise to heated critical debate with regard to how it became part of the Borghese Collection, beginning with the role played by its original owner Aldobrandini. The question was only resolved in 1996, when Ilaria Miarelli Mariani (1996, pp. 185-188) proved beyond a doubt that the contemporary existence of two different paintings of the same subject formed part of the respective collections of the two Roman families. According to this scholar, in fact, it is quite probably that Zucchi’s work already belonged to the core of paintings owned by Cardinal Scipione Borghese; the painting was confused with another by Pietro Aldobrandini, mentioned by Giovanni Battista Agucchi in 1603 and listed in 1626 as belonging to the collection of Olimpia Aldobrandini.
The painting in question, on the other hand, has formed part of the Borghese collection since the 1630s, as is shown by an inventory published by Corradini in 1998; Stefano Pierguidi (2014) more precisely dated its entry into the collection to c.1633, when the work was recorded as ‘a painting of Psyche with Cupid asleep, 6 high and 5 wide. Zucca’. In 1650, Iacomo Manilli gave this description: ‘Psyche with an oil lamp in her hand wishes to see Cupid; it is by Jacomo Zucca’. The author of the 1693 inventory, who erroneously attributes the work, wrote of ‘a sleeping Eros surrounded by flowers with a Venus carrying an oil lamp in one hand and a knife in the other, and a dog resting next to a bow and a quiver: no. 724, with a gilded frame by Scarsellino of Ferrara’.
The commission of the painting is most likely connected to Ferdinando de’ Medici, who originally purchased two other allegories by the same artist, both of which today form part of the Borghese Collection (inv. nos 292 and 293). As critics have noted, Zucchi in fact painted the work for the wedding of the Medicean prince and Christina of Lorraine, which took place in Florence in 1589, two years after the death of Francesco I, an event which forced Ferdinando to leave Rome for good.
Lucia Calzona - Amore e Psiche by Jacopo Zucchi
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