Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Venus and Cupid

click photo to enlarge
In February Cupid is everywhere - in March he's gone, his bow and arrow packed away for another year! But it wasn't always so. Our modern image of Cupid as an armed and mischievous winged cherub derives from the Roman god of erotic love, who in turn is equated with ancient Greece's Eros. Cupid's parentage is unsure: sometimes Mercury and Diana are cited, often it's Mercury and Venus, and sometimes Mars and Venus. In the classical past the widespread cult of Cupid was closely associated with that of Venus, and both gods were regularly invoked in the name of love.

Artists' depictions of the pair are common. Bronzino's "An Allegory with Venus and Cupid", which shows the son significantly overstepping the bounds of filial affection, is the most controversial Renaissance example. Where he is shown alone, Cupid is often portrayed as an impish boy with a roguish smile, as in Caravaggio's painting, "Amor Vincit Omnia". It is that characterization that card manufacturer's have seized on for Valentine's Day. Interestingly, the artists of the Christian church subverted the image of Cupid in their representation of cherubs!

The photograph above shows a recent sculpture by the Lancaster artist, Shane Johnston. Venus is seated and holds a wingless and outstretched Cupid at arms length. Nothing about the pair, apart from the nearby sign, suggests they are the classical duo - in fact they could be any mother and child. The sculpture was commissioned as a community project, and involved young women from disadvantaged areas of the city. St George's Quay was to have been the original location for the piece, but it was considered too modern for this heritage site. So, in 2005, mother and son found themselves overlooking Morecambe Bay at Scalestones Point, and being dedicated to those lost at sea, including the twenty three Chinese cocklers who drowned nearby the previous year. This tenuous connection with tragedy seems unnecessary, even casual, and I'm quite uncomfortable with it. Furthermore, the wide-open spaces of the shore do nothing for the sculpture. It needs a more enclosed situation for its undoubted qualities to be better appreciated. Here it is lost among the sea, the sky and the nearby traffic's roar.
photograph & text (c) T. Boughen