Filippo della Valle, Cupid and Psyche
This exquisite marble group represents the myth of Cupid, the Greco-Roman god of Love, and his lover, the beautiful mortal girl Psyche.
This exquisite marble group represents the myth of Cupid, the Greco-Roman god of Love, and his lover, the beautiful mortal girl Psyche. A rare interpretation of the tale, with the protagonists depicted as two infants, this work by the Florentine sculptor Filippo Della Valle (1698-1768) is a striking mix of innocence and sensuality, enhanced by the impressive realism of the softness and texture of the children’s flesh and skin.
Filippo Della Valle was the nephew of Giovan Battista Foggini, court sculptor of the Medici Grand Dukes. After training with his uncle, in 1725 Filippo moved to Rome, where he opened his own workshop and became one of the most sought-after sculptors of the time. His style, with its elegance, attention to detail and intimate and sensual approach, attracted numerous commissions from Popes Clement XII and Benedict XIV, such as the monument for Pope Innocent XII. Throughout his work he is most successful in the delicate figures of the putti and in the intense sensibility of his female allegories.
Until fairly recently the Cupid and Psyche (catalogue number S22) was attributed to the French sculptor Augustin Cayot (1667-1722), whose signature appears on the back of the group, with the date 1706. The authenticity of the signature, almost identical to that on the only other signed work by Cayot, a marble companion of Diana now at Cliveden, had never been questioned since the opening of the Wallace Collection in 1900. However, in 1732 Della Valle executed an engraving of the Cupid and Psyche, dedicated to one of his patrons, the Florentine art connoisseur Niccolò Gabburri, in which the sculpture is clearly identified as his work. The group is also recorded in Della Valle’s inventory taken after his death in 1768 and listed by his biographers among his works, whilst there is no mention of it in any early biographies of Cayot. Comparison between this group and other works by Della Valle shows
compelling similarities in the treatment of details such as hair, hands and drapery.
We do not know when the Cupid and Psyche entered the collection, but it was probably acquired by the 4th Marquess of Hertford in the mid-19th century. Cayot’s Compagne de Diane was at that time also owned by him. An unscrupulous dealer in possession of the Cupid and Psyche, the character and subject of which would certainly have appealed to Lord Hertford, could have easily made a copy of the signature on the Compagne and added it to Della Valle’s group, to make the piece even more tempting for a collector notoriously fond of French 18th century art.
The re-attribution of the Cupid and Psyche to Filippo Della Valle marked an important step in the renewed appreciation of an artist universally praised in his lifetime, but long unjustly forgotten.
© Trustees of the Wallace Collection 2008.
Text by Leda Cosentino
- V. Hyde Minor, Passive Tranquillity: the Sculpture of Filippo Della Valle, 1997.