60 × 53 cm. Inv. No. 20879.Naples, National Archaeological Museum
60 × 53 cm.
Naples, National Archaeological Museum
(Napoli, Museo archeologico nazionale).
24. Cupids and Psyche making sacrificesInv. no. 20879.
Pompeii VII 4, 59 (House of the Bronzes).
60 × 53 cm.
A panel removed from a black wall contains a pinax depicting a genre scene with cupids making sacrifices surrounded by a dark red border with white fillet on a pale background in an impressionistic style, the painting in shades of green and brown.
This pyramid-shaped composition contains elements which are typical of an idyllic sacred scene: an altar with trophies, a pedestal on which stands a statue of Juno portrayed as a slender winged figure wearing a long chiton turning to her left, and a leafy sacred tree which completes the picture in the background, painted with thick rapid brushstrokes.
These elements are the focal point of the composition, at the centre of the scene. On the right is a Psyche dressed in a long chiton with her head turned to her left shown offering a sacrifice to the goddess at the altar. Two chubby cupids with downy wings are shown on the left, one in the foreground chasing a peacock (the bird sacred to Juno), trying to catch it with both hands. The peacock in the centre is beautifully painted, and turns towards the would-be captor, while another cupid peeps cheerfully from behind the altar. The scene is completed in the foreground by an open box with the lid resting on it.
The style of painting is impressionistic, with the figures rendered in patches of light and shade, with strong brushstrokes in light and dark colours. It comes from the triclinium (Room y) at the House of the Black Wall, also called House of the Bronzes, excavated in first half of the 19th century. The decoration of the south wall, consisting of a bipartite composition, can be ascribed to the 4th style.
The socle comprises two panels with a medallion showing the head of a Gorgon separated by a narrow section with a gryphon. The central part contains two panels divided by an architectural view with a floral candelabrum above which are a globe and an eagle. These panels contain two pictures of cupids offering sacrifices, one to Juno on the left (the picture discussed here) and the other to Mars on the right (see Reinach S., Répertoire des peintures grecques et romaines, Paris 1922, p. 94, 2).
Above the cornice with corbels supported by giant figures terminating in serpents or sphinxes in small squares with sea monsters is a higher register which contains a central niche with Jupiter seated on a throne, next to a niche with a female figure making a sacrifice under a lamp held by a cupid. The two paintings on the south wall are part of the same series as the ones with the same subject in the central part of the west wall — one showing cupids making sacrifices to Aphrodite before a statue of Priapus who holds a sceptre and a rhyton (see Reinach 1922, p. 89, 2), the other a scene with cupids making sacrifices to Dionysus (see Reinach 1922, p. 89, 3). The scenes on the wall and ceiling panels in the 4th style show flying cupids and Psyche with different attributes (see Reinach 1922, pp. 70—
For a study on representations of Eros, the most common subject in classical times, see Blanc N., Gury F., Leredde H., Les images d’Amour: une expérience d’information, in “RevArch”, 2, 1987, pp. 297—
Cicirelli, in Pompeii. Picta fragmenta. Decorazioni parietali dalle città sepolte, exhibition catalogue, Turin 1997, pp. 110—
Cicirelli, in Pittura nella Reggia dalle città sepolte. Affreschi antichi da Pompei, Stabiae, Ercolano, exhibition catalogue, Naples 1999, p. 61, no. 30.