Amor, Eros, Cupid — no
matter what name he is hiding behind, it is always the god of love that is
talked about, the driving force in the world. Succumb to his charms at
your own peril: "Amor remains a knave. Whoever trusts him will be
deceived", wrote Goethe, who surely knew from experience. In antiquity
Amor was depicted as boyishly charming and wearing wings. From the fourth
century ВС, he carried a bow and arrows.
This last guise was the motif Michelangelo Merisi from
near Bergamo had in mind when he accepted a commission from Marquis
Vincenzo Giustiniani in Rome in 1602. Nevertheless,
Amor was notably different from earlier representations of mythological
figures. His Eros is cheeky, he laughs impertinently, and is aggressively
roguish; he is also sexier than Cupid had ever been before. Speculation on
what his left hand is doing behind his back fills volumes. All this may
have contributed to making the painting
most famous work — and possibly the most celebrated Cupid in history.
Moreover, Amor, who also stands for homosexuality and was the love child
of the love goddess, Aphrodite, by the god of war, Mars, reflects the
own nature. A passionate lover of men his own age, he could be dangerously
violent on occasion.
was a genius who was known for impish humour. He loved to stroll through
the streets of Rome strumming on his guitar, yet he also had the
reputation of being hot-tempered and was always getting into brawls. This
trait tragically cut his career short. After years of impoverishment, he
had finally achieved recognition. To show how successful he was, he even
allowed a boy to carry his sword. On 29 May 1606, he was involved in a
fight, which left one of the participants dead, murdered — it was
maintained — by
Banished from Rome, he fled to Naples, Malta and Sicily, where paintings
lined his path. At last he arrived in Monte Argentario, Tuscany, hoping to
be permitted to return to Rome. In vain. He died of malaria in Monte
Argentario at the age of thirty-six, "in squalor and neglect". As the
irony of fate would have it, the Papal letter that would have permitted
his return to Rome had already been sent.
It hardly seems a coincidence that
should have introduced chiaroscuro, the dramatic contrast of light and
shade, to European painting, since few painters had as much firsthand
experience of light and dark in their own lives as he had.