Thursday, February 13, 2014
8:17 PM | Dana Kaplan, Stresa Sights | Edit Post
For la festa di San Valentino this year, I would like to share with you the beautiful Story of Psyche series of paintings by the French painter Maurice Denis. You'll see why in just a minute. The paintings were commissioned by a wealthy Russian industrialist and art patron, Ivan Moronov, and painted by Denis during 1908 and 1909. When completed, Denis personally brought the paintings to Moronov's Moscow home.
Denis had visited Italy in the 1890s, and the travels greatly influenced him and his art. When Moronov commissioned Denis for the paintings, it was Denis who suggested the story of Psyche and Cupid, because of its "idyllic and mysterious character," he said.
In five of the paintings, Denis used Isola Bella as the setting of the story. And that's why I want to share them with you this Valentine's Day. Here are the paintings, with their titles, and their very familiar Stresa locations:
Cupid is Struck by the Beauty of Psyche. I do believe that is the view of Lago Maggiore from Isola Bella, with the town and mountain of Laveno seen in the back right, and Pallanza Verbania in the back left.
( Continued ... )
The Vengeance of Venus. Look at those columns and the cherub statues atop them... there are many like these in the Isola Bella gardens.
Zephyr Transports Psyche to the Island of Delight. No explanation is necessary here; we all know that island of delight!
Psyche Discovers Her Secret Lover is Cupid. This setting is an actual bedroom in the Palazzo Borromeo.
Jupiter Bestows Immortality Upon Psyche and Blesses her Marriage to Cupid. Those obelisks, cypress trees, and urns are instantly recognizable features from the terraced gardens of Isola Bella.
Cupid carrying Psyche up to Heaven. No scenes of Stresa in this sixth painting of the series, but I wanted to include it as I find it so beautiful in its composition and color, and it's a stretch, but we've all seen blue skies like this in Stresa, si?
This is a self-portrait of the artist, Maurice Denis. The Story of Psyche paintings are now housed in the Hermitage, in St. Petersburg, Russia; a few years ago they traveled to the D'Orsay Museum in Paris as part of a large exhibition of Denis's works.
It seems fitting that he chose Isola Bella as his setting for a story of love and Cupid. Isola Bella, originally Isola Isabella, was after all a gift of love from Carlo Borromeo to his wife Isabella, and its greatest symbol, high atop all the gardens and the island, is Cupid, riding on the back of that majestic unicorn.
Go Cupid! Happy Valentine's Day to all ...
Open Your Hearts, Today, and Every Day.
Want to know the entire story? Here's a greatly summarized, modernized version that makes it totally easy(ish) to understand, from a website named shmoop.com:
Cupid and Psyche Summary
How It (Supposedly) Went Down
- A king and queen have three daughters.
- All three of the girls are attractive, but one of them is absolutely gorgeous – Psyche.
- People come from all around just to check out how beautiful Psyche is.
- All this adoration of Psyche gets totally out of hand; men start worshiping her as if she were a goddess and ignore the altars of the goddess of love and beauty, Venus (a.k.a. Aphrodite).
- Men even start saying that Psyche is more beautiful than Venus. (Uh-oh.)
- We bet you can guess who got mad about this. Yup, that's right – Venus.
- The goddess of love gets kind of hateful and orders her son, Cupid (a.k.a. Eros), to go and punish Psyche by making her fall in love with the ugliest thing around.
- Cupid sneaks into Psyche's bedroom to do his mother's bidding, but, when he sees how beautiful Psyche is, he gets all distracted and pricks himself with his own arrow.
- Cupid falls instantly in love with Psyche and leaves without doing what his mother told him to do.
- Psyche's life continues on as usual: everybody comes to gawk at how hot she is.
- However, since Venus has it in for her, nobody ever falls in love with Psyche.
- Psyche's two sisters end up getting married, but Psyche is stuck sitting alone in her room.
- Getting worried that they've made some god angry, Psyche's parents decide to go consult the oracle of Apollo about their daughter's future.
- The oracle tells them that Psyche is destined to marry a monster that neither god nor mortal can resist.
- Psyche's parents are instructed to leave her on a mountain to await her monstrous husband. They cry a lot about it, but they do it anyway.
- So, Psyche is chilling on top of the mountain, fully expecting something terrible to happen.
- Zephyr, the west wind, comes and lifts her, carrying the princess gently from the mountaintop down to a beautiful field of flowers.
- Psyche comes across an amazing castle and goes inside. The place is decked out with tons of treasure and priceless pieces of art.
- She hears voices that tell her that the palace and all the amazing stuff in it is hers.
- She's treated to a wonderful feast, complete with an invisible singing chorus for entertainment.
- Her husband-to-be comes to her that night in the darkness of her bedroom, so she can't see what he looks like. He tells her that she must never try to see what he looks like.
- She's cool with that for a while, but eventually she gets lonely since he only comes at night and because there are no other humans around.
- Psyche convinces her invisible husband to let her sisters come and visit her. He reluctantly agrees and has Zephyr float them down.
- Psyche's sisters get super-jealous about her incredibly posh lifestyle. They start interrogating her about who her husband is.
- At first, Psyche lies and says he's a handsome young man who spends all day hunting in the mountains. They don't buy it, though, and keep pumping her for information.
- Eventually, Psyche admits that she's never seen him and that he only comes at night.
- The jealous sisters remind Psyche of the prophecy that she would marry a monster, and they convince their sister that she has to see what her husband looks like.
- They advise her to wait until he's asleep, then stand over him with a lamp and a knife (in case he's a monster).
- That night she follows her sisters' advice and sees that her husband is none other than Cupid.
- Psyche is blown away by how ridiculously handsome her husband is. She's so distracted that she lets a drop of oil fall and burns his skin.
- Cupid wakes up and sees his wife standing there with the lamp and a knife.
- Furious, he flies out the window, telling Psyche that she'll never see him again.
- The beautiful palace disappears and Psyche is left all alone.
- Totally depressed, Psyche goes back to her sisters and tells them what happened.
- As if they hadn't already shown how totally awful they were, the sisters now go to the mountaintop thinking that one of them might take Psyche's husband for themselves.
- They jump off the mountain, expecting Zephyr to take them down. (No such luck.)
- The jealous sisters fall to their deaths on the rocks below.
- Meanwhile, Psyche wanders around trying to find Cupid.
- She ends up going to a temple of Ceres (a.k.a. Demeter), goddess of the harvest. The temple is a total wreck, so Psyche cleans it up.
- Ceres is impressed with Psyche's devotion.
- Psyche asks for some help.
- Ceres wishes she could give Psyche a hand, but the goddess says she can't go against Venus.
- Ceres advises Psyche to go to Venus and humbly beg for forgiveness.
- Psyche takes Ceres' advice and presents herself to Venus.
- Venus is still crazy mad and gives Psyche a tongue lashing, telling the girl that Cupid is still trying to recover from the burn that the oil gave him when it dripped on him.
- The goddess of love tells Psyche that she must prove herself worthy to be Cupid's wife by completing a task.
- Psyche is taken to a storehouse full of wheat, millet, barley, and all kinds of stuff that Venus uses to feed her pigeons.
- Psyche is ordered to organize all the different kinds of grain – the wheat with the wheat, the barley with the barley, etc.
- The job seems pretty much impossible, and, to make matters worse, Venus orders Psyche to get it done by evening.
- Cupid intervenes, however, and inspires a colony of ants to come out of the ground and help out Psyche. (Phew! We were worried that Rumpelstiltskin might show up.)
- The ants get the job done and disappear underground.
- Venus returns and tells Psyche that it doesn't count, because Psyche couldn't have done it by herself.
- The next day the goddess of love gives her daughter-in-law another task. Psyche must collect golden fleece from the back of every sheep in a herd that hangs out by a river.
- As she's about to cross the river, though, a river god warns Psyche that, if she tries it when the sun is rising, the human-hating rams will kill her.
- The helpful river god advises her to wait until the noontime sun makes the herd go chill out in the shade; then the rams won't mess with her.
- Psyche follows the river god's advice and safely collects the wool.
- Venus is still not satisfied, though, saying again that Psyche didn't do it on her own.
- Next, the love goddess orders Psyche to go down to the world of the dead and see Proserpine (a.k.a. Persephone), the queen of the underworld and wife of Pluto (a.k.a. Hades). Venus says she wants Psyche to bring a little bit of Proserpine's beauty back in a box.
- Psyche bravely heads off to find the underworld, but she's really upset this time – going to the land of the dead is beyond dangerous.
- How is Psyche supposed to get to the underworld? Is she supposed to kill herself? She seems to think so.
- Thankfully, before Psyche jumps off a cliff, she hears a voice (Cupid) that tells her how to pull it off. The voice tells her where there's a cave that leads down to the underworld, how to convince Charon (the ferryman) to take her there and back, and how to avoid Cerberus, the vicious three-headed dog who guards the underworld.
- Psyche makes it to Pluto and Proserpine's palace in the land of the dead and tells Proserpine that Venus wants to borrow a little beauty.
- A box is given to Psyche, and she's on her way.
- The voice warns Psyche not to open the box, no matter what she does, but Psyche's just so curious and can't help herself. The girl opens the box, thinking that, if she had a little of the beauty herself, then she'd truly be worthy of Cupid.
- Unfortunately, there's no beauty in the box at all, and when Psyche takes off the lid, she's plunged into a deep sleep, collapsing in the middle of the road.
- Cupid, who has finally recovered from his burn, flies to help his wife. He wakes her up with one of his arrows, and he points out that once again her curiosity has gotten her in trouble.
- Cupid tells her to take the box to Venus and to let him take care of the rest.
- He flies to Jupiter (a.k.a. Zeus), and he begs the king of the gods to help him and Psyche.
- Jupiter summons Venus and convinces her to chill out about the whole thing.
- Then he brings Psyche up to Mt. Olympus, the home of the gods, and gives her some ambrosia, which makes the girl immortal.
- At long last, Cupid and Psyche get to be together.
- Cupid and Psyche end up having a daughter together, named Voluptas (a.k.a. Hedone, sometimes translated as Pleasure).
Thanks to various Wikiart, Wikipaintings, and Wikipedia sites for the images and information.
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