FALCONET, Étienne-Maurice
(b. 1716, Paris, d. 1791, Paris)

Seated Cupid

Marble, height 48 cm
Musée du Louvre, Paris

Falconet's real success came with the Salon of 1757 when he exhibited the Baigneuse and also the Cupid (both Louvre). The Cupid was Madame de Pompadour's commission; it became, and has remained, one of the most famous pieces of eighteenth-century sculpture. Falconet tackled a subject which had already been treated notably by Bouchardon and Saly. Madame de Pompadour had asked for the same subject from Slodtz, but he had done no more than execute the drum-shaped pedestal.

Falconet's Cupid was conceived in very different terms from the standing figures of Bouchardon and Saly. As presiding god and 'genius loci' Cupid is seated, cloud-borne, in deceptive, apparent repose. He is a boy, a baby, made diminutive by affection. The statue incarnates the attraction, and yet the threat, of love. In one profile Cupid is seen with hand on lip, urging discretion and secrecy - only the extended tip of his quiver hints at more. From the other side, and from the front, it is apparent that his left hand is drawing an arrow from the quiver; an ambiguity is now apparent too in the gesture of finger to lip which becomes less conspiratorial and more threatening. And finally, all Love's ambiguity is summed up in the prominent spray of roses carved at the base of the cloud.