(b. 1571, Caravaggio, d. 1610, Porto Ercole)
Oil on canvas, 75 x 105 cm
Galleria Palatina (Palazzo Pitti), Florence
When Caravaggio received his honorary knighthood, his presence on Malta was likened to that of Apelles on the island of Cos. This curiously sombre little picture is the only classical relic of Caravaggio's time on Malta, to which an old inscription on the back of the canvas ascribes it. As the painting was in Florence by 1618, Caravaggio may have taken it with him when he fled.
The plump, solid figure is well articulated by the artist who had learnt in Rome all that he needed to know about human anatomy from antiquity and the Renaissance; and yet he is affectionately observed as though he were a mere mortal child asleep. In the darkness it is possible to make out his wings - he is not a young putto - and the quiver of arrows on which he sleeps, the bow with its broken string and the arrow, with a tinge of red, that he holds in his hand. In human affairs he plays a symbolic role.
Here Cupid is not in charge of fate. While forgetful Love sleeps on, lovers cannot cope with the clamorous demands of their passions, and they are lost. But even if Love has been vanquished in the past - his bowstring is broken - he has ammunition, the quiver and the arrows, with which he can fight again.