Post Lot Text
CUPID AND PSYCHE, OIL ON CANVAS, BY PIERRE SUBLEYRAS
PIERRE SUBLEYRAS (SAIN-GILLES-DU-GARD 1699-1749 ROME)
CUPID AND PSYCHE
with an old inscription 'Psyché ou la Raison armée contre l'Amour auctor Subleyras' (at the verso of the canvas)
oil on canvas
135 x 192 cm.
Provenance : Probably painted in 1732 for the Grand Salon of Palazzo Mancini, in Rome. Lost in 1793 during the looting following the death of Louix XVI.
Anonymous sale, Hôtel de Bullion, 20 January 1823, lot 32.
Rediscovered in 1975 in a Belgian private collection.
Galerie d'Arenberg, Bruxelles, 1986.
Peintures et scultpures de maîtres anciens, exhibition catalogue, Brussels, Galerie d'Arenberg, 1986, pp. 22-24, no.8, ill.
P. Rosenberg and O. Michel in the exhibition catalogue, Subleyras (1699-1749), Paris-Rome, 1987, pp. 152-153, no.6, ill.
Art in Rome in the eighteenth century, exhibition catalogue, Philadelphia, Museum of Art, Houston, The Museum of Fine Arts, 2000, p.554.
Although he spent all his career in Italy - as well as Nicolas Poussin had done it one century before - Pierre Subleyras is one of the most important French painter of the XVIIIth century.
After a formation with Antoine Rivalz in Toulouse, he won the Prix de Rome with The Brazen Serpent (Nimes, Museum of Fine Arts), which allowed him to enter the French Academy in Rome in 1728. He never left the city again and pursued a brilliant career, getting commission both from prelates of the Roman Curia as from the French Ambassador, the Duc de Saint-Aignan. In 1740, the cardinal Prospero Lambertini chose him to paint his portrait, one year before being elected Pope under the name of Benedict XIV.
Subleyras died prematurely in 1749, having completed two years ago but his most important commission, the Mass of St. Basil, executed for St. Peter's Basilica (the original, replaced by a copy in mosaic the basilica, is visible today in the church of Santa Maria degli Angeli in Rome).
In 1732, the French Academy had settle for seven years in the Palazzo Mancini and its director, Nicolas Vleughels, entrusted the pensioner, to embellish the palace by painting overdoors for the apartment of the King. For this occasion Pierre Subleyras presumably painted this Cupid and Psyche for the Grand Salon of the main floor. The Cupid and Psyche is a major rediscovery for reconstitution of the paintings of the artist. The restoration of the painting, probably badly damaged following the looting of the Palazzo Mancini in 1793 as indicated by the wear and repainted many, helped in the 1970s to discover the original canvas where was found the inscription, 'Psyché ou la Raison armé contre l'amour auctor Subleyras', which proves that Subleyras was the real author of both the picture here, and the Louvre drawing that corresponds to it.
This reattribution sheds a new light on the early career of Subleyras as one of the first testimonies of his activity in Rome. A work in which the artist, to quote a contemporary anonymous biographer ( Memory per the Belle Arti, February 1786) 'is away from his usual style' and opts for a 'delicate flavor' he will give up later. A different style which contrasts with the one he will adopt later, but where one can already find a range of colors and tones - blue, white, pink carmine - which are already his owns. Marked by the Italian and French examples of the previous century but also by a painter closest in time as Benedetto Lutti (1666-1724), Subleyras offers here a seducing image of a mythological subject painted many times, in which the curious and indiscreet Psyche loses forever the confidence of her lover Cupid.
The episode is taken from the Metamorphoses of Apuleius. Psyche, the beautiful daughter of a king, discovers with the light an oil lamp Eros asleep while she had promised not to try to discover the face of her mysterious husband. Subleyras chooses the moment when Psyche approaches to contemplate the face of her lover, a dagger in her hand, doing so inevitably bow the oil lamp towards the young god. A drop of hot oil will soon fall upon the shoulder of the young god who will wake up immediately and run away, furious at having been betrayed by his young wife.