Bartolomeo Manfredi, “Cupid Chastised”, 1607-1610, Oil on Canvas, 175 x 130 cm, The Arr Institute of Chicago
Manfredi’s “Cupid Chastised” first appearred in art-literature in 1937, when it was published as a newly found work by Caravaggio. There is no date, signature, or inscription on the painted to indicate otherwise. The great Caravaggio expert had already recognized and published it as by Manfredi, when it was acquired in 1947 for the Chicago Art Institute as a Caravaggio.
“Cupid Chastised” was included in the epochal 1951 Caravaggio exhibition in Milan with an attribution to the “School of Caravaggio”. Soon after acquiring the painting, The Chicago Art Institute relabeled it with its current attribution to Manfredi. However, as recently as 1972, it was suggested that it is instead by an unknown Nordic follower of Carravaggio.
Following the example of Caravaggio, Bartolomeo Manfredi chose to depict ordinary individuals in his scenes from the Bible and Greek and Roman mythology. Caravaggio had demonstrated to Manfredi and an entire generation of European artists that such lofty themes could be transformed into events experienced by ordinary people. Employing dramatic lighting and locating the action directly before the viewer, these artists were able to endow their narratives with great immediacy and power.
The depiction of Cupid’s chastisement shows a moment of high drama: Mars, the god of war, beats Cupid for having caused his affair with Venus, the goddess of love, which exposed him to the derision and outrage of the other gods. Venus implores him in vain to desist. Surrounded by darkness, the three figures are boldly illuminated from the left, intensifying the dynamism and impact of the composition.
The sheer physicality of the figures — the crouching Venus, whose broadly realized face strays from the classical ideal; the powerful Mars, whose musculature and brilliant red drapery seem to pulsate with fury; and Cupid, whose naked flesh and recumbent position render him particularly vulnerable—conveys the violent discord of the scene. On one level a tale of domestic disturbance, the story also symbolizes the eternal conflict between love and war.