The story of Psyche evidently had a particular appeal for Jordaens. He painted three sequences of canvases of the subject, the first, and most extensive, for King Charles I, the second - to which this picture would seem to belong - for another exceptional royal patron, Queen Christina of Sweden, and the third for the decoration of his own house in Antwerp.
The first set, intended for Greenwich, is well-documented (see D. Schlugleit, ‘L’abbé de Scaglia, Jordaens et “l’Histoire de Psyche” de Greenwich-House (1639-1642)’, pp. 139-64). A set of 22 large canvasses was commissioned for the ceiling and walls of the room of Queen Henrietta Maria in Inigo Jones’s celebrated Queen’s House at Greenwich. Sir Balthazar Gerbier, Jones himself and others were involved in the commission, the former negotiating through the Abbé Scaglia, who was also a patron of van Dyck. The King had initially hoped to employ Rubens, but he was evidently not available and in any case died on 30 May 1640; by the following month the relevant measurements has been received by Gerbier, and Jordaens had actually completed one picture by May 1640; seven had been delivered, but not paid for, at the time of the Abbé’s death in May 1641. By then the King’s own position was precarious: on 10 January 1640 he would withdraw from London. In the event the pictures were never paid for and have vanished. The relevant documents establish, however, that the canvases that were finished were of substantially larger format than this example. One of the documents published by Schlugleit (p. 164) refers to Raphael’s representations of the Story of Psyche, a precedent of which both Scaglia and Inigo Jones, as well as their patron, would have been aware.
Jordaens painted a further Cupid and Psyche series as part of a larger order commissioned for Queen Christina of Sweden on 21 April 1648. The thirty-five pictures are said to have been destroyed by fire in the Castle at Stockholm in May 1697, but five large pictures of the Story of Psyche stated to have been painted for the Queen were sold by Jordaens’s heirs on 22 March 1734, lot 78 (see R.-A. d’Hulst, Jacob Jordaens, London, 1982, p. 30). Queen Christina’s pictures were intended for a ceiling. How greatly the subject interested the artist is implied by his decision to paint a set of eight canvases of this for his own house. Seven of these with a fragment of the eighth are owned by the descendant of Charles van der Linden who removed these from their original location, then in his possession, in 1877, and transferred these to his house on the Mechelse Steenweg at Antwerp. One of the pictures is dated 1652.
This previously unknown canvas, which Elizabeth McGrath suggests may be from the same series as the Psyche receiving water from the Styx at Pau (which measures 67 by 82 cm.), may, as Gregory Martin suggests, have been intended as a ‘presentation piece’. Jordaens himself was substantially responsible for the execution, although the curtain, for example, may have been delegated to a member of the studio. A date in the 1640s seems likely.