From the Archives #51 — February 2020

By Sebastián Encina, Collections Manager

Go to the store during the month of February and you are likely to run across several aisles worth of Valentine’s Day gift ideas. Of course, there are chocolates and candies, stuffed bears and other critters, and countless other possibilities to give to a loved one, a child, whomever you wish. February 14th and the days leading up to it are flooded with hearts and Cupids and other symbols of love. It is rather difficult to avoid it all.

For this month’s “From the Archives,” we present our own Cupids in the collections. Though the Kelsey Museum has quite a number of Eros/Cupid artifacts (figurines, sculptures, even coins), this month we choose to share the photographic art held at the Museum, photographs taken primarily in the second half of the 19th century. Though exact dates are not associated with the individual photographs, we know many of them were created in the 1860s and later. Some of the images are attributed to Michele Mang, an Italian photographer who was active in the 1860s, 1870s, and 1880s. We also hold photographs from John Henry Parker, who collected or commissioned photographs of Italy (read more about Parker in Passionate Curiosities: Tales of Collectors & Collections from the Kelsey Museum, by Lauren E. Talalay and Margaret Cool Root). 

In general, the photographic collection at the Kelsey shows art and architecture found across Europe and Near East. The photos here focus on representations of Cupid, primarily in Italy. Some are of sculptures, others of frescos, and one a mosaic. They show Cupid in a number of forms and at a range of ages. We see the baby-like Cupid in KM 2000.1.3210, where he sits at the feet of Apollo, and in KM 2000.1.1696, where several representations hover around Hercules. In several depictions — KM 2000.1.2884, 1961.8.70, 2000.1.2782, and 2000.1.1879 — Cupid is a young boy, no longer a baby. A slightly older Cupid is depicted in images such as KM 1961.8.950, 1961.8.958, and 2000.1.2435, among others. Cupid as a young man is seen in KM 1961.8.633, 1961.8.634, 1961.8.635, and 2000.1.2518. 

Baby Cupid:

Toddler:

Older Boy:

Young Man:

The Kelsey has several depictions of the same work of art, or similar works of art, perhaps taken by different photographers at different times. We attribute some works to certain photographers, but the rest are unattributed.

Cupid/Eros was and still is a popular subject in both ancient and modern art. Though modern popular culture often shows Cupid as a pudgy baby with wings and the famous bow and arrow, he did not always take this form. The collections at the Kelsey Museum demonstrate some of the variations of Cupid that exist. Next time you are at the store purchasing Valentine’s Day gifts, remember that those gifts could include a very different depiction of the famous God of Love.

Ugly Object of the Month — February 2020

By Suzanne Davis, Curator of Conservation

Love is in the air, gentle readers. It’s February, and St. Valentine’s Day is just around the corner. Maybe you’re hoping to receive something special from your significant other, or maybe you’re hoping your love life will receive a boost this month. Either way, we’ve got the object for you: it’s Eros on a pyxis, and he’s bringing a gift. What could be better?

1977_03_0002-1-web
Clay pyxis with lid. Rim diameter 6.4 cm, height 7.8 cm. Ca. 5th–4th c. BCE. KM 1977.3.2.

Exactly what’s happening with Eros in this scene is a little unclear. You would think that the Greek God of Love and Sex would have it made, but on this pyxis it looks like that’s not the case. For one, he doesn’t have any feet. Granted, Eros does not actually need feet, because he has wings. But still. It just seems lazy on the painter’s part. You can paint giant wings and a truly freakish hipbone but you can’t bother to put ankles and feet on those legs? Come on.

Two, Eros appears to be holding a cushioned stool as he flies up on some poor, unsuspecting woman, and she really doesn’t look into it. Maybe she truly doesn’t want the stool, or maybe the painter hasn’t accurately captured the spirit of the moment.

The woman could be Psyche or, you know, not. The Eros / Pysche thing is complicated and — once again — the painter of this pyxis is not giving us a lot to go on. Why would Psyche / unknown woman want flown-in furniture? Maybe she ordered it on Amazon and instead of delivering it by drone, they sent Eros instead?

The woman is standing in front of what looks like a dovecote, which might mean something. Or not. My husband, who is 100% an expert (but not in this), says this could be some sort of guest / host situation. As in, the woman has come to visit — wandering through the wilderness and passing by a dovecote, as one so often does in the wilderness — and when she gets to Eros’ place, he’s like, “Heeeyyy, Psyche! Come on in! Have this stool. Get comfy!”

With her upraised arm, she could be saying, “Eros, thank god I made it through the insane wilderness where I was nearly pecked to death by half-domesticated doves! I seriously need that stool, and please bring wine.” Or she could be like, “Gah! Get back! Why is this crazy bird-person flying up on me?! I barely made it out of that dove situation alive!”

Who can say.

What I can say is that I love this object. If the Kelsey decided to hold an auction, I would buy this in a hot second. And then I would use it to serve candy hearts. “Will you be my Valentine?” I think this is what Eros is trying to say with his imperfectly painted body and odd, furniture-gifting situation. Let’s hope his lady love, whoever she is, is saying yes.