The Slings and Arrows

Cupid, the iconic figure of Valentine’s Day, wasn’t always the sweet, innocent child portrayed on a Hallmark card. Today’s Cupid derives from the ancient Greek god Eros, a beautiful and effeminate youth known for his mischievous ways.

Eros lamp holder, early 1st century B.C., bronze, Dallas Museum of Art, The Eugene and Margaret McDermott Art Fund, Inc., in honor of Anne Bromberg's 30th anniversary with the Dallas Museum of Art, 2005.12.A-B.McD

Eros was an archer, endowed with the power to make individuals love-struck with his arrows; one strike would make the victim instantly fall in love with the next person he or she saw. Though Eros was mostly benevolent in his use of this power, he could also wreak havoc. Eros took sport in using his bow and arrow to create ill-fated matches.

Jan van Scorel, "Venus and Two Cupids," c. 1528, oil on panel, Dallas Museum of Art, The Karl and Esther Hoblitzelle Collection, gift of the Hoblitzelle Foundation, 1987.29

At times he was reckless and struck unintended victims, including his own mother, Aphrodite. While Eros was leaning in to hug his dear mother, an arrow inadvertently pierced her breast, and although she pushed him away, she instantly became enamored with the next man she saw, a human by the name of Adonis.

Unfortunately for Aphrodite, human-god affairs were scandalous and bound to end in disaster. No one was safe from Eros and his clumsy quiver—not even his mother!

'Folding fan with "Adonis Led by Cupids to Venus," after Francesco Albani,' mount, c. 1720s-1730s; guards and sticks c. 1740s-1750s, gouache and watercolor on double vellum leaf, mother-of-pearl, gilding, and paste gem (later), Dallas Museum of Art, The Wendy and Emery Reves Collection, 1985.R.496

Over time, both his image and his reputation transformed into what we know now: Cupid (the Roman name for Eros), an adorable baby and symbol of romantic, everlasting love. The DMA’s encyclopedic collection provides a great look at how different cultures and periods have appropriated the Cupid figure.

Eros earrings, late 4th century B.C., gold, Dallas Museum of Art, Cecil and Ida Green Acquisition Fund, 1995.25.A-B

"Capital pin with Aphrodite and Eros," 1st century B.C., gold, Dallas Museum of Art, Museum League Purchase Funds, The Eugene and Margaret McDermott Art Fund, Inc., and Cecil H. and Ida M. Green in honor of Virginia Lucas Nick, 1991.75.91

Antoine Coypel, "The Alliance of Bacchus and Cupid," c. 1702, oil on canvas, Dallas Museum of Art, Foundation for the Arts Collection, Mrs. John B. O'Hara Fund, 1990.144.FA

Henri Fantin-Latour, "Venus and Cupid (Venus et l'Amour)", 1895, lithograph, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of Mrs. A.E. Zonne, 1942.48

Andrew Sears and Hannah Burney are McDermott Interns at the Dallas Museum of Art.

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