Supplementary Appendix 168.1

Cupid Curbing a Lion
From a Sardonix in the Cabinet of Strozzi [*]


This powerful deity is here represented with a whip and bridle, mounted on a lion, who has the head of a goat between his paws.

Among the allegorical gems typifying the power of love, we see him subjugating all nature. Here we observe him curbing the most powerful of the animal creation, even in the pursuit of his prey. The spirit and action found in this gem form its greatest excellence.

From a Greek epigram of Archias, on this gem, we have been favoured with the following elegant translation:

See, the proud monarch of the woods submits! 
Young Cupid on his back in triumph sits!
Now checks him with a rein, now strives to urge 
The Lybian monster with his goading scourge. 
Innumerable fears my bosom move, 
Whilst thus I meditate the Power of love; 
I dread the ravage in my gentle breast 
Of him, who thus controuls a savage beast.

Love is painted by the poets under very opposite forms. Sometimes timid as a child, at others cruel as a conqueror, and again, glorious as a divinity, according as he influences the human heart. But his attributes wear a menacing character; his bow, his quiver, his arrows, his torch, all proclaim his resistless character.

Artists have followed the descriptions of poets. We find on gems, Love, as a child, wrestling with Hercules, who finds no defence in his club; Love is seen sporting with the claws of a lion, or driving a car with harnessed animals of the most ferocious natures; sometimes riding on a lion, he enchants him by the harmony of his lyre, or leads him by one hand, while the other holds his lighted torch. Love is sometimes seen sporting among the Tritons, and fluttering over the waves. Perhaps the most beautiful of all these subjects, is Love playing on his lyre, seated on a lion, who seems to march with slow steps; a happy conception, whose simplicity is admired because, without bridle or whip, arms or torch, Love, merely by the magical tones of his assuasive lyre, conducts at his pleasure a sovereign animal.

Lucian in one of his Dialogues (Deor. Dialog. xii.) evidently alludes to these gems. Venus tells Cupid, that since he has touched the brain of old Cybele for young Atis, she has become so crazy that Mount Ida is full of consternation; “and I fear if that goddess ever recovers, she will sacrifice you to the vengeance of her priests, who will give you up to be devoured by her lions” — “Feel perfectly at ease (replies Love) on that head; I am familiar with lions; I sometimes amuse myself with riding on them, and the most docile courser is not more obedient to his rider, than a lion is in my hands.”

On the person of Love may we be allowed to notice a novel invention of Raphael, in his picture of Cupid, who is showing Psyche to the Graces, in the Farnesian palace. This Cupid is perfectly red; of a brick colour. He is reflected on the Graces, whose beautiful forms receive a rosy tint; Love resembles a burning coal, whose splendour is reflected on every surrounding object. The conceit is probably derived from some Italian poets, who describe the son of Venus, not with a fair skin, but with one of the colour of fire.

Il color del suo volto 
Più che fuoco è vivace. 

“The colour of his face
is more ardent than fire.”

Some of the medals of Alexander the Great bear a Cupid mounted on a lion — the German antiquaries have explained the symbol, merely as far as the lion may be said to be emblematic of the courage and power of this great monarch; but when one recollects (observes the writers in the Orlean Collection,) that in the midst of his conquests, the conqueror of the world was himself subdued by Love, can we mistake the true meaning of this allegorical type?

[*] Richard Dagley, “Cupid Curbing a Lion,” Gems, Selected from the Antique: With Illustrations (London 1804), 48–50. Back.

Translation © 2020 Doug Stott