Cupid Playing with a Butterfly
by Antoine-Denis Chaudet (1763 – 1810)
Chaudet went to the seine river in Paris to look for a model for this masterpiece. Approaching the young nude Parisian boys swimming. There was a misunderstanding about what he wanted from a nude young boy. This landed him in jail.
Cupid is portrayed as a naked, unarmed adolescent whose sole attributes are his short wings. He seems to be engrossed in an innocent pastime. His amusement is not as harmless as it seems, though; the butterfly allowing itself to be seduced by his rose symbolizes the soul, Psyche in Greek. Imprisoned by Cupid, the soul soon experiences love’s torments rather than its pleasures. The graceful bas-relief friezes on the base develop the theme: if the butterfly tastes the juice of a basket of flowers, it is pinned down by chubby little cupids, one of whom enslaves it by harnessing it to his chariot. But the soul finally triumphs thanks to the bees: infuriated by the arrows shot at their hive, they swarm all over the cheeky imps. These scenes are inspired by the Idylls of Theocritus (3rd century BC), the most famous Greek poet of the Alexandrian era, and the delicateness of the carving expresses all their bucolic charm.
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There’s a beautiful painting of the death of Hyacinth by Jean Broc which you can see here.
Hyacinth was a beautiful boy and lover of the god Apollo, though he was also admired by West Wind, Zephyr. Apollo and Hyacinth took turns throwing the discus. Hyacinth ran to catch it to impress Apollo, was struck by the discus as it fell to the ground, and died. A twist in the tale makes the wind god Zephyrus responsible for the death of Hyacinth. His beauty caused a feud between Zephyrus and Apollo. Jealous that Hyacinth preferred the radiant archery god Apollo, Zephyrus blew Apollo’s discus off course, so as to injure and kill Hyacinth. When he died, Apollo didn’t allow Hades to claim the boy; rather, he made a flower, the hyacinth, from his spilled blood.