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Cupid and Psyche.
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Cupid and Psyche.
Work Type
works on paper
plate: 220mm (width), 160mm (height), Sheet: 227mm (width), 190mm (height)

Claude Mellan was born in Abbeville in northern France to a family of coppersmiths. By 1619 he was in Paris where he studied engraving and appears also to have been active as a portrait painter. He travelled to Rome in 1624 to study with the engraver Francesco Villamena, who died not long after his arrival. However, he soon came under the powerful influence of the French expatriate painter Simon Vouet, who encouraged him to make chalk portrait drawings, which became something of Mellan's speciality. While in Rome, he also practised extensively as an engraver, reproducing the works of Vouet (as here), and Bernini in particular. Returning to France in 1636, Mellan found an eager clientele for his restrained yet technically astonishing engravings - which dispense with cross-hatching and outlines altogether - and embarked upon the official phase of his career, with varied prestigious commissions culminating in his appointment as engraver to the king.

During this later period in Paris, Mellan mostly engraved his own work. He was much sought after as a portrait artist, drawing from life and engraving the portraits. His drawings "reveal more variety of style and execution than he showed in the engravings." He also created large religious works with geometric layouts and poses. According to Barbara Brejon de Lavergnée, writing in the Grove Dictionary of Art, Mellan's use of the single line gives "an abstract effect" and, "as an engraver he proved sensitive to the classical ideal developed by Nicolas Poussin, Jacques Stella and others in Paris in the middle of the 17th century."

Anatole de Montaiglon catalogued 400 engravings by Mellan, and about 100 drawings are known, located mostly in the Stockholm Nationalmuseum and the Hermitage, Saint Petersburg.


The subject of the print is a Greek myth which was popular in art. Psyche, the wife of the god Eros, resolved to see her husband's face despite him forbidding this. She therefore took a lamp and visited him at night in order to take her very first look at him. The lamp, however, burst and the burning oil woke Eros up. The National Gallery, Prague, calls this print 'a masterpiece of Baroque graphic arts. Mellan managed to extraordinarily capture the source of light and the lit objects in contrast with the space immersed in the darkness of the night'. It is based on an oil painting by Vouet in the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Lyon, dated 1629-36. Our print is part of the collection of Old Master works mounted in the so-called King George IV album, acquired by the Dominion Museum in 1910.


National Gallery, Prague, 'Amor and Psyche',

Wikipedia, 'Claude Mellan',

Dr Mark Stocker Curator, Historical International Art November 2018

Collection: Art
Purchased 1910
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Image and original data provided by Museum of New Zealand - Te Papa Tongarewa
Use of this image is in accordance with the Artstor Terms & Conditions
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