Monday, February 11, 2013

Love and Death

This would be quite a short blog if I were to just say, “Hey, one of my photographs was used on a magazine cover, and here it is.” But you know me better than that! First let’s talk about the magazine, or more accurately, the [British] Journal of the Center for Freudian Analysis and Research. One of the editors of the JCFAR had seen my photograph, “Cupid and Psyche,” on my StoneAngels website (, and emailed me asking if the organization could use it as the cover image for their next issue of its professional journal. The issue would be published in February 2013 (the month in which I am writing this blog, the month of love, as it were), its overall theme being, “On Love.”

I of course said yes, as this would be an interesting topic of conversation between my wife and I, she being, in fact, a psychotherapist. Our worlds again collide – art and mental health (but they are closely related, right?).

Journal of the Center for Freudian Analysis and Research
Issue No.23 “On Love”  (Table of Contents):

Lucia Corti   Love Masks....
Julia Borossa   Narratives of Love
Anne Worthington   The Inequalities in Love
Werner Prall   Transference: Seduction and Transcendence
David Henderson   Where is Love?
Astrid Gessert   What Does The Woman Want? - Revisited
Alireza Taheri   Love and the Sexual Non-Rapport
Conditions of Philosophy

From the book, Stone Angels, by Ed Snyder

My own interest in the sculpture of Cupid and Psyche began with research I did in preparation for writing my Stone Angels book, which features my photograph of the statue. When I made the image back in the early 2000s, I was unaware of its mythological and historical significance – I only recognized it as a quite moving piece of sculpture, one of many examples of sensuality and death comingled in the cemetery.

 (Available from
“Sex and death. Eros and Thanatos. [The psychiatrist Sigmund] Freud believed them to be our inner drives, forces that both coincide and conflict. As humans we seem to be simultaneously sexually driven and death phobic. Death and desire seem to conjugate in some fashion in our minds, a philosophy of opposites.”

“The sculpture in this photograph is a copy of Psyche Revived by Love’s Kiss, by the Venetian sculptor Antonio Canova [1757 - 1822]. The original resides in the Louvre. The one I photographed is in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Hollywood, California. The cemetery is cleverly described by its owners as the “final resting place of Hollywood’s immortals,“ which includes, quite appropriately, Rudolph Valentino.”
- Stone Angels (

The Journal of the Center for Freudian Analysis and Research
Victorian Valentine, "Love's Question" (

The interest taken in my photograph by the Center for Freudian Analysis and Research for use on its journal cover is easily understood at first blush  – the imagery is essentially that of a Victorian Valentine, and the journal issue is focused on love. However, I believe the sculpture likely has a much deeper meaning to the readers of the journal, the members of the Center for Freudian Analysis and Research. Cupid, or Eros, is waking his love, Psyche, with a kiss. [In Roman mythology, Cupid (Latin Cupido, for "desire") is the god of desire, affection, and erotic love. His Greek mythological counterpart is the god Eros.]

Canova's original sculpture
The sculpture epitomizes not only love, but death as well. Freud theorized that human nature emerged from two basic instincts: Eros and Thanatos, the libido and mortido - the life instinct and death instinct. “He saw in Eros the instinct for life, love and sexuality in its broadest sense, and in Thanatos, the instinct of death, aggression. Eros is the drive toward attraction and reproduction; Thanatos toward repulsion and death. One leads to the reproduction of the species, the other toward its own destruction” (ref. Michael Dunev Art Projects). 

So, then, if Cupid, or Eros, with his erotic embrace, is reviving the woman with a kiss, is she dead? Is Antonio Canova’s sculpture as much about death as it appears to be about love? The meaning behind the statue lies in Greek mythology, not far from Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty. It is an allegory about love overcoming death. As a piece of sculpture in a cemetery,  It can easily symbolize life after death – immortality.

Sleeping Beauty

Cupid and Psyche’s story is the earliest recorded version of the “wakened by a lover’s kiss” fairytale. It was told by Lucius Apuleius in his 2nd century AD novel, The Golden Ass (in the novel, the protagonist is turned into a donkey).

 William-Adolphe Bouguereau, 1889
Psyche is a (mortal) princess so beautiful that people treat her like a goddess. Potential suitors are reluctant to approach her, and she can therefore find no mate. The goddess Venus is jealous of this so she decides to trick Psyche into a self-imposed “Sleep of the Innermost Darkness,” or coma-like death. Through Venous’ trickery, her own son Cupid becomes Psyche’s secret lover. Psyche implores Venus to help her find her mystery lover, and Venus imposes a series of [seemingly] impossible tasks that Psyche must perform in order to “prove her worth.” One of these tasks was to deliver a jar in which was imprisoned the “treasure of divine beauty.” Psyche wanted some for herself, thinking it might lure her mystery lover to show himself. However, the jar was filled instead with a sleeping potion. In the end, Cupid rescues Psyche from her death-sleep, and she is, as depicted in the statue,“… revived by Love’s kiss.” Cupid implores Zeus to grant Psyche immortality, so that the two lovers can be together forever. Psyche received the gift of immortality so that she could be with Cupid. Together they had a daughter, Voluptas (Greek for "Pleasure"), and they all lived happily ever after. Eros + Psyche (Greek word for the human soul) = Voluptas , i.e.,  erotic desire melded with the human spirit produces pleasure – or something like that.


So we can see that, as with love itself, there is much more to the "Cupid and Psyche" statue than meets the eye. The concepts of life and death touch us all - taphophiles, psychiatrists, sculptors, Disney script writers, and certainly these young lovers locked in a sort of Cupid-and-Psyche embrace that I photographed on the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, Italy. In this month of Valentine’s Day, we can see how love is, in fact, a many-splendored thing. Namaste.

References and Further Reading:
Hollywood Forever Cemetery website
Greek Myths: Eros and Psyche

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