Pierre-Paul Prud'hon, The Abduction of Psyche by Zephrus to the Palace of Eros Pierre-Paul Prud'hon, The Abduction of Psyche by Zephrus to the Palace of Eros, after 1808, probably before 1820, Oil on Canvas, Norton Simon Foundation

Pierre-Paul Prud’hon (1758- 1823) The Abduction of Psyche

We all know that for a long time artists used to use the Greek myths as an excuse to paint nudes, confident that men never tire of female flesh being offered up in various religious costumes, but what about the other audience—women? Men are always promisd things in female form, things that are impossible dreams – and then they have to go to bed with reality. It’s a ploy advertising has embraced, from the new car she seems to be humping to the beer bottle she seems to be caressing or the Cartier watch she is trying to swallow. Women are different. We have no such experience but we have her body and the promise of some kind of vague power – if only they would buy the car and swallow the beer, if only we wouldn’t talk so much and just go to sleep.

For women the nude is not an object of desire, she is not an object, she is me, the viewer and therefore Poud’hon’s painting has a different meaning than the one he might have intended. Psyche is not some dish offering herself up to male eyes, she is my psyche being carried away by Zephyrus, the God of Sleep – and this painting is about escape, escape through dreams, even daydreams but also nightmares. Only when the sub-conscience talks to the conscience do you have power, feelings that defy gravity, pleasure that you could only watch before.

I am sure this is not what Prud’hon intended, but I feel stronger when I sleep, able to fly as effortlessly as this woman is doing, to smile at the black dragon cliff below that drops into the even blacker sea where the problems of the world prowl about like sharks on a blood hunt. This is my favorite painting of pure joy. This only kind of escape that society cannot control is a dream.

Artillery Magazine Vol 7 Issue 5 May-July 2013

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.
Required fields are marked:*