Valerio Villareale (1773-1854) was born in Palermo and began his training in the workshop of Giuseppe Velasco. He worked in Naples for three years, close to the Royal Court of Ferdinand IV, before moving to Rome in 1797, where he studied as a pupil of Canova. Once in Rome he was quickly influenced by the art of the Antique promoted by his tutor. In 1802 he returned to Naples to join the court of Joseph Bonaparte, King of Naples and Sicily, and subsequently the court of Joachim Murat. In 1815, he returned to Palermo, where he was appointed professor of sculpture and director of the Royal College.
The present figure of Psyche was celebrated as Villareale's chef d'oeuvre by contemporary critics. In 1854 Benedetto Sommariva Gamelin, a friend of the artist, acquired the sculpture along with Villareale's workshop and its contents after the artist's death. The work remained in the house at 22 Via Valerio Villareale until 1910, when the property was sold. Thought for many years to have been lost, the sculpture had in fact remained with the descendants of the Sommariva family in their various homes until the present time.
Although the figure's 'grace and abstract melancholy' display Villareale's homage to Canova, the Antique was not the artist's only reference: both the Danish sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen's 1806 Psyche, now in the Thorvaldsen Museum in Copenhagen, and Pietro Tenerani's The Seated Psyche, dated circa 1816-1819 and now in the Pitti Palace in Florence, served as inspiration. However, the present composition is set apart from traditional representations of Psyche through the presence of the vase Psyche retrived from the underworld, containing the beauty of Persephone. Psyche is no longer a mournful figure lamenting her abandonment by Eros, but a young heroine, overcome by curiosity. In her search for love and beauty, Villareale's Psyche serves as a meditation on the soul, and the sculpture is considered one of his most mature works.