Instigated by her jealous sisters, Psyche, oil lamp in hand, sneaks up to take a forbidden peek at her as yet unseen lover. Jacopo Zucchi sticks close to Apuleius’ story in this life-size painting: Psyche has a weapon in her hand, quite an impressive one, after all her sisters have suggested he might be an evil serpent, planning to devour her and her child as soon as she gives birth. One of Amor’s arrows is under her foot, she will soon prick herself with it and thus fall madly in love with him. This is one of Zucchi’s last and best paintings, and maybe the first rendering of the famous scene.
An amusing detail is that it also may be the first example of what has elsewhere been called “convenient censoring”: There just happens to be a vase with flowers in the foreground that exactly covers Amor’s genitals. I wonder if it was part of the original composition or added in the last moment. In any case it is a sign of the changing atmosphere in the Counter-Reformation.
This style element, if you may call it that, would abound two hundred years later, when artists studied the frescoes in Pompeii and wanted to reproduce the antique nudity, yet avoid to paint male genitals, at least not too many of them. David was especially prone to this.
I’ve uploaded many Amor and Psyche-related posts to my Tumblr lately.