Bronze sculpture Menacing Cupid
From 1757 to 1766, Etienne Falconet was the Director of the sculpture workshop at the Royal Sevres Porcelain Factory, where he created numerous models, several of which are the most popular models ever. One such creation is “Menacing Cupid”.
In the previous generation of sculptors, Boucher had made doll-like chubby children that fidgeted this way and that. Falconet, on the other hand, created an Eros: a child as idealised as he is mischievous, who is not in fact threatening anyone, his finger simply asking for silence.
Cupid is the confidant of Venus, for whom he keeps the secrets of her love life. He is on the verge of taking an arrow out of his quiver with his left hand. He is called “Menacing”, which stirs the imagination to reflect upon the dangerous nature of love.
Falconet, who was filling an order from Madame de Pompadour, had named the marble model of this sculpture “Cupid”.
A smaller marble version was made in 1755. Falconet’s real success came with the Salon of 1757 when he exhibited the Baigneuse and also the Cupid (both Louvre). The Cupid was Madame de Pompadour’s commission; it became, and has remained, one of the most famous pieces of eighteenth-century sculpture. Falconet tackled a subject which had already been treated notably by Bouchardon and Saly. Madame de Pompadour had asked for the same subject from Slodtz, but he had done no more than execute the drum-shaped pedestal.
Falconet’s Cupid was conceived in very different terms from the standing figures of Bouchardon and Saly. As presiding god and ‘genius loci’ Cupid is seated, cloud-borne, in deceptive, apparent repose. He is a boy, a baby, made diminutive by affection. The statue incarnates the attraction, and yet the threat, of love. In one profile Cupid is seen with hand on lip, urging discretion and secrecy – only the extended tip of his quiver hints at more. From the other side, and from the front, it is apparent that his left hand is drawing an arrow from the quiver; an ambiguity is now apparent too in the gesture of finger to lip which becomes less conspiratorial and more threatening. And finally, all Love’s ambiguity is summed up in the prominent spray of roses carved at the base of the cloud.
L’Amour menaçant, the “threatening Cupid” from 1757, not only marked Falconets as an artistic, but also his professional successful outcome. The finger pointing to the closed lips of Cupid promises discretion. And, nevertheless, he seems to be conscious, arch in smiling, his power over every human talent.