According to Lucius Apuleius (The Golden Ass, Books 4-6), Venus, angered by the adulation that Psyche's beauty inspired, orders her winged son Cupid to assist her in a plot to take vengeance on the princess: Cupid, she commands, is to inflame Psyche with 'wretched love for the most miserable creature living.' Venus' cruel plot goes awry when Cupid himself falls in love with Psyche and has her delivered to his palace to be bathed in preparation for their first encounter. Thereafter, Cupid visited Psyche each night, always departing before daybreak and never allowing the princess to set her eyes upon him. Fearing that her consort might be a man-eating serpent, as her envious sisters had claimed, Psyche cast the flame of a lamp upon Cupid one night as he slept, revealing his beauty and inflaming her own passion. A drop of burning oil awakened him and, furious at Psyche for disobeying his orders, Cupid fled the enchanted palace and vanished. Psyche wandered the earth seeking Cupid, until Jupiter took pity upon her and she was carried to heaven to be reunited with him.
Here, Guidobono illustrates the episode of Psyche coming to Cupid at night. She holds the handle of an oil lamp and leans toward his partially uncovered body to inspect him as he sleeps. Although Cupid appears as a youth resting upright on a white drapery, his wings framing his shoulders, she approaches him with a dagger, to defend herself should he prove to be a serpent 'dire and fierce.' In the shadows, a putto assists her by pulling back the heavy curtain above.
As a night scene, color is limited. The two figures are bathed in light, and one admires not only the diagonal twists of white drapery around Cupid but also the intricate and elegantly described white bodice of Psyche. Typical of Guidobono are the sweet faces and small hands (that anticipate Boucher by 40 years) as well as the strong lighting effects on the arms and legs. The golden glow of the figures (before cleaning) is complimented by the deep red curtain above and a blue/green skirt that diagonally falls over her leg.
Guidobono studied the work of Correggio in Parma in the early 1680s, and the composition reflects the movement and sensuality of Correggio's Jupitor and the Antiope (Muse du Louvre, Paris). An underlying sexuality is expressed also in the theme which defines an allegory of the search of the Soul (Psyche) and a union with Desire (Eros).
Two large paintings, Jael and Sisera, Samson and Delilah (Zerbone Collection, illustrated in the exhibition catalogue, Genova nell'Eta Barocca, Genoa 1992, nos. 100-1), which have the figures similarly strongly lit against a dark ground have been dated around 1690, the time when Guidobono frescoed the Galleria di Venere e Adone in the Palazzo Cambiaso-Centurione. With the lack of documents and dated paintings on which to base a chronology for his work over a short period of time (three decades), those paintings must be considered markers, although the figural movement of the present work is more unified, suggesting that it might be a more mature work.
We are grateful to Dr. Mary Newcome for confirming the attribution and assisting in the cataloging of this lot.