Peter Paul Rubens, ‘Psyche’, ca. 1612-15, Royal Collection Trust

This is a life study for Rubens's painting of Cupid and Psyche of around 1612-15. The story is told in Apuleius's Golden Ass, of the 2nd century AD: Psyche was a mortal so beautiful that Venus herself was envious, and the goddess sent Cupid to make her fall in love with someone worthless. But Cupid was himself captivated and so had Psyche brought to his palace, visiting her only after dark and forbidding her to cast eyes on him.
Rubens depicted the moment that Psyche catches her first glimpse of Cupid; she is seated on the edge of the bed in which he sleeps, holding a lamp from which oil would drip and waken him. Rubens used a male model for the study, softening his musculature in the painting into the artist's more familiar fleshy forms.
The drawing owes much to Rubens's experiences in Italy (and Rome in particular), where he had spent most of the period 1600-08. The scale and media of the drawing are indebted to Annibale Carracci's studies for the Farnese Gallery, and the pose possibly had a source in one of the most frequently copied figures in Michelangelo's Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel, at the centre of the right-hand group of the Saved. Inscribed lower centre Del Rubens.

Image rights: © Royal Collection Trust / HM Queen Elizabeth II

Probably acquired by George III, c.1760 (possibly Inv. A, p. 106: 'Academie di Diversi Autori...One Rubens')

About Peter Paul Rubens

Peter Paul Rubens, one of the great Flemish artists of the 17th century, was a prominent figure in the Catholic church, the royal courts, and commercial centers of the Low Country. Trained in Antwerp, Rubens traveled to Italy in 1600 where he absorbed the work of Italian artists such as Raphael, Leonardo, Michelangelo, Correggio, Tintoretto, Caravaggio, and Annibale Carracci. A highly expressive and imaginative artist, Rubens was also one of the busiest and most entrepreneurial—he set up a large workshop, staffed with apprentices and students, that turned out numerous religious pictures, mythological scenes, classical and modern history paintings, and portraits. Rubens influenced many younger artists for centuries, including Jean-Antoine Watteau, François Boucher, Jean-Honoré Fragonard, Théodore Géricault, and Eugène Delacroix. The term “Rubenesque” is still used to describe large, fleshy women who recall the ones included in so many of Rubens’ masterpieces.

Flemish, 1577-1640, Siegen, Westphalia, based in Antwerp, Netherlands