The mythological legend of Psyche is well known: Psyche was a young girl of such an ideal beauty that Love itself was in love with her and he took her. It is this graceful episode that Prud’hon has treated in his magnificent masterpiece.
The painting represents the scene of the kidnapping. The young Psyche, carried by winged Cupids, is limply stretched between the arms of her captors. His charming head, inclined to the right, betrays neither fear nor anger; the sharp look that filters under the lowered eyelids, the half-opened lips for a smile, the complete abandonment of the whole body, on the contrary, expresses the voluptuous intoxication, the obliging acceptance of adventure. One of his arms is carelessly folded over the shoulder; the other, lifted with a gesture full of grace above the head, keeps with the end of the fingers the end of a veil of gauze that floats and bubbles around her. There is nothing more ideally beautiful than the chaste nudity of that virgin body whose fair flesh seems to be full of light. Her slender legs rest on the neck of a young, laughing-looking Cupid with tousled hair. The two others maintain the bust of the girl; one of them, the one in the foreground, half bent under the charming burden, looks up at the blonde Psyche, whom he gazes with an air of adoration. Beneath them, Zephyr, the accomplice wind of rape, unleashes a whirlwind of clouds which facilitates the flight of the group towards the azure.
This admirable painting, one of the finest in the French school, is especially remarkable for its special conception and translation of the antique, very different from those in honor in the school of David. At this school Prud’hon borrows nothing, except the taste of subjects drawn from pagan antiquity.
But with what superior grace he interprets it! Beauty is not for him a laborious assemblage of impeccable lines, having the polish and rigidity of marble. Under his prestigious brush, the cold statue comes alive, the flesh lives, a generous blood circulates; on the epidermis of his creations, he spreads that indefinable and elusive something about which only Leonardo da Vinci and Correggio possessed the secret. As well, is Prud’hon not of his age; he has the beauty of the profound and ideal sense of the great painters of the Renaissance. I named Vinci and Correggio: it is up to those that we must go back to find a term of comparison with the talent of the French master. They are also his favorite models, during his stay in Rome. Passionately, he studies them, scrutinizing their processes, trying to guess their technique, to attribute their colors to themselves. Correggio especially dazzles and enchants her. He despairs before the transparency of his flesh, the fluidity of his shadows, the audacity of his shortcuts. By dint of study he penetrates the mysteries of this admirable art; he understands the elevation, the beauty; he makes it his own, and on his canvases we find all the pagan grace and voluptuousness of the great parmesan master. And we can say of him without exaggeration that he was the French Correggio.
“In the middle of his time,“ writes Theophile Gautier, “Prud’hon is an unforeseen fact. He created a new grace and found a vein of unknown beauty. His way of understanding the ancient world is completely different from that of his contemporaries. The statues that David’s pupils draw with a sculptural dryness, it seems to see them in the moonlight, silvery soft lights, bathed in shadows and reflections, waving, faded on the contours, enveloping and drowning their lines in a wave mist. To the mythology of the empire he applies the vagueness of Correggio. He has steam, mystery, reverie, and also a divine smile that belongs only to him. But do not believe in an effeminate talent; Prud’hon knows, when it is necessary, to be male, serious and great. What is more tragic than Justice and Divine Vengeance pursuing Crime?”
We have told what was his stay in the Eternal City: a perpetual enchantment, a boundless admiration for the masterpieces of the Renaissance, a fervent adoration for Correggio and Vinci.
On his return, he is a master and soon his paintings cause a sensation. The Empire has retracted the Revolution. Napoleon favors the arts; he does not hesitate to distinguish Prud’hon. He confided to her the portrait of the Empress, whom the painter represented sitting in the gardens of Malmaison.
To this masterpiece Prud’hon adds another: Psyche transported to Heaven that we give here. Soon, he is famous, his paintings are competed, his portraits, he is of the Institute and he dies covered with glory.
Psyche transported to Heaven figured in the Salon of 1808. He was paid 15,450 francs in 1839; it would reach a fantastic account today if it were put up for sale. The Duchess of Sommariva, who owned this magnificent painting, bequeathed it, in 1888, to the Louvre, which put it in beautiful place in the Hall of Seven Chimneys, also called Salle du Sacre, where are the works of David and other painters of the early nineteenth century.
Height: 1.93 – Width: 1.54 – Life-size figure.