The Blacksmith Cupids

MAKER:
Artist

Charles-Antoine Coypel ( French, 1694 - 1752 )

DATE:
c. 1715–1720
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General Description

Originally set just above an fireplace in a royal bedroom, Charles-Antoine Coypel’s painting is playful on two levels. Forging arrows, of course, required the assistance of flames, while “fire” referred metaphorically to the desires Cupid sparked. We see atop the composition a levitating Amour who holds an arrow at the ready and points to his left. In aiming the weapon, he draws our attention to a shadowy figure lurking behind a tree. The size, muscularity, dark skin, and pointy ears identify the intruder as a satyr, a traditional image of animal desire. The satyr appears unaware that he has been spotted, for, with tilted head and eyes cast to his right, he directs his attention downward across the composition toward two infants handling a slender arrow. Here is the only little girl in the scene, shown wingless and with flowers in her hair.

She and a little boy cupid appear infatuated, as he grasps the arrow’s slender shaft and she touches its tiny tip. Depicted as infants, they can pretend innocence because they are presumed not to understand their urges. Yet a satyr cannot hide his nature, and with a sideways glance appears to calculate a next move, while the infatuated infants remain blind to his presence. Is the satyr here an external threat to the cupid couple or merely the emblem of a sexual desire that has already grabbed them, and is represented wittily through their attention to an arrow held upright?

Adapted from

Mary D. Sheriff, "Love Hurts: On the Pleasures and Perils of Love in Eighteenth-Century French Art," in French Art of the Eighteenth Century: The Michael L. Rosenberg Lecture Series at the Dallas Museum of Art, ed. Heather MacDonald (Dallas: Dallas Museum of Art and the Michael L. Rosenberg Foundation, distributed by New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2016), 38-51.

Fun Facts

  • Both Charles-Antoine Coypel and his father Antoine served as premier peintre du roi (first painter) to the French court.

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