Chocolates, flowers, cozy candle-lit dinners – these ordinary words gain a special significance this time of year around Valentine’s Day. This season of grand romantic gestures and proclamations of love is often personified by its most popular mascot – the mischievous young Cupid. The name alone conjures an image of a chubby-cheeked cherub wielding his infamous bow and arrow. Yet, the plump young cherub that today adorns Valentine’s cards and chocolate boxes is actually older than the holiday itself.
Cupid first makes an appearance in Ancient Greece under the guise of Eros, the god of desire, attraction, and love, and also the son the goddess Aphrodite. Eros was often portrayed in Greek art as a handsome, slim immortal who toyed with the hearts and emotions of different gods. It was during the Hellenistic period and into Roman times that the dashing Eros became the chubby young Cupid we know today. His mother Aphrodite became Venus, and he became the perpetually youthful young god that toyed with the hearts of mortals and immortals alike. The myths and legends surrounding this winged young boy have subsisted throughout the centuries. From Renaissance paintings to Shakespeare’s sonnets, the youthful god has inspired artists as a symbol of the invincibility (and sometimes irrationality) of love.
Artisans of the Meissen porcelain manufactory similarly fell under Cupid’s spell. The celebrated company’s much admired Cupid series stars the young god of love, and figurines such as Cupid Enchained epitomize his playfulness in relation to his fellow gods. Other decorative pieces present Cupid as the harbinger of an eternal love, while others depict him as a tyrant over tender hearts. Smaller figurines represent a more human aspect of the winged god, depicting him in moments of contemplation and exhausted rest. Nearly 100 of these extraordinary porcelain figurines were crafted by Meissen, each bringing to life just a single strand of the complex centuries-old myth surrounding Cupid.