“Psyche….You’re Such A Drama Queen!”

While we wait, here’s something to tide us over.

Next picture in 3…2…1…

20181209 Birmingham Trip L1061017 Psyche, Drama Queen resized

December 2018, afternoon.

I walk slowly through the large rooms of the Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery. It is quiet today and the sun is shining outside. It is nice to be indoors and warm.

My first impulse on seeing this painting by Jean-Baptiste Marie Pierre is to chuckle. And then to point my camera. And then to take a picture, set to f/2.8, 1/750, ISO-3200.

In today’s world of soundbites and memes, this masterpiece seems to beg for a suitable caption with which to travel around the world, bringing joy and merriment as it bounces along handheld devices and LED screens.

And yet, the mythical scene depicted here is anything but amusing. Psyche is abandoned by her lover Cupid and tries to drown herself.

She is rescued at the last minute by water nymphs, or naiads.

As with much mythology, digging deeper into the roots of the story leaves one on somewhat shaky ground.

Psyche is being punished, it would appear, for being beautiful and Cupid accidentally fell in love with her by being pricked by his own arrow when he was on an errand by his jealous mother, Venus, to punish Psyche for being beautiful and causing people to offer their sacrifices to her – rather than Venus – and to call [Psyche] the second incarnation of Venus.

(If you will, Venus 2.0)

And Cupid didn’t abandon her so much as he ran away when his identity was discovered by Psyche as her curiosity got the better of her and she decided to disobey his instructions he had given that she was not to shine a light on him under any circumstances during his nocturnal visits while he kept her in a palace in the sky…and yet she did just that, after being goaded on to do so by her jealous sisters who sowed the seeds of doubt about her lover by reminding her that it was suggested by the oracle who her father met with that she would be betrothed to a fire-breathing dragon creature… as one does.

(…wait, what?)

So, as part of her redemption, Venus demands that Psyche perform a series of impossible – ok, probably hard to do – tasks. But her heart’s not into it and she’s dealing with these difficult emotions of having Cupid leave her. So she figures that she’ll let herself go, and drown in the river she’s been told to cross because… quite frankly, life’s just not worth living without winged hotties.

She seems rather unconcerned at being rescued, by the way.

But rescued she is all the same by those busy-body naiads. You know them – the one’s who hang around by the water cooler. Or fountain. They probably don’t have much work to do this afternoon. This is the highlight of their day.

The story ends well – for a mythical tale, that is. She suffers a bit more and then gets immortality and a proper wedding to Cupid and everything is happily ever after.

But back to the painting.

Despair has never looked so…. melodramatic!

Jean-Baptiste deftly captures the scene on canvas with a pleasing colour palette of blues and greens for the background and drawing us in with the reds and shades of white of her outfit. It is a balanced composition with Psyche placed in the centre of the frame and the four female naiads all around her.

This sense of balance exists within the lighting applied to the subjects – each is brightly illuminated against the dim background but there are no harsh shadows to be found here.

We are gently reminded of the rays of hope that can often be found illuminating our way, even in our darkest hour.

An allegory for our world today.

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References
(1) http://www.birminghammuseums.org.uk/explore-art/items/1906P30/psyche
(2) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cupid_and_Psyche
(3) https://artuk.org/discover/artworks/psyche-rescued-by-naiads-33296
(4) https://vads.ac.uk

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