RAFFAELLO Sanzio
(b. 1483, Urbino, d. 1520, Roma)

Cupid and the Three Graces

1517-18
Fresco
Villa Farnesina, Rome

Raphael's pictorial narrative in the Loggia di Psiche begins in the spandrels of the short side on the left as one enters and continues along the spandrels to the right to the second short side and then along the entrance side. These triangular surfaces represented a problematic format for artists. Raphael solved this challenge in ever new and surprising ways, causing the form of the painting's support and the composition of its figures to interact in particularly fortuitous and varied manners.

In this spandrel Cupid, who is already in love with Psyche, is pointing her out to the Graces. The figures are skillfully placed within the form of the spandrel such that they face in from all four sides and seem to push the space out with their backs and shoulders. This gives the group air and freedom in the centre without causing it to fall apart: the bodies interlock, overlap, and combine.

It was said that only in the presence of the Three Graces could a young man recognize the charms of his beloved. Cupid is looking at the Graces and pointing with his left hand, not at Psyche, but at the loggia itself, the Chigis' own world. This is no doubt meant to refer to the lady of the house.

Suggested listening (streaming mp3, 4 minutes):
Francesco Gasparini: The Meddlesome Cupid, aria