The Cupid Seller

September 22, 2014 / Art & Archaeology
Castellammare di Stabbia, Campania

This week we are proud to present a beautifully handcrafted, Italian designed line of jewelry, the GrandTour Collection, made by our new friends Micaela and Roberto Borrazzi. The response has been excellent so far… enjoy!

We’re not quite sure what to do with this one… Do we tell the Beatles to rewrite their early hit, “Money Can’t Buy Me Love”? Or do we go with the 18th century neo-classical interpretation, that it’s a meditation on heartbreak and the pangs of love?



Perhaps best to start with the facts… This incredible 1st century AD fresco was unearthed in 1749 during the excavation of an Roman villa at Stabbiae, now the city known as Castellammare di Stabbia near Naples.

It appears the fresco was found in a section of the villa meant for women only.

The fresco was detached and became part of the Bourbon King of Naples’ collection and now rests in the National Museum of Archaeology of Naples.

What we’ve got is a Roman matron seated, with a younger woman (daughter?) standing behind her. They are looking at an elderly courtesan offering an amorino (a “little love”, i.e. a cupid) that has been plucked out of a basket/cage (most unceremoniously!). There is another amorino looking quite grumpy still in the basket, as well as a third one at the Roman matron’s feet looking at her somewhat expectantly.

Right. Still don’t know what to make of it! Is this where all those cute cupids we’re used to in paintings and on ceilings come from? Hawked like chicken by cupid sellers?! To our eyes, it is certainly an unusual scene, and yet the cupids remain endearing nonetheless. You can almost hear the cacophony and wing-flapping of that cupid being handled that way!

As to what the “message” was back in the day, some clues suggest that it is an ancient theatrical motif, part of some popular love-comedy play of the day no doubt, now lost in time unfortunately. We do know for a fact that the scene was a favorite throughout Europe during the neo-classical and rococo’ period. It was repeated in paintings, such as the famous 18th century version by the French court painter Vien.


Primarily however, it was reproduced many times over as a souvenir for 18 and 19th century travelling women in the form of cameos.

(And we are proud to continue that tradition today. It is one of the many different antique “scenes” available in the contemporary line of jewelry, available for a limited time only on our online store ItalianConnections, designed and made by ItalianNotebook friends Micaela and Roberto Borrazzi.)



by GB Bernardini

Editor, Italian Notebook

3 Responses to “The Cupid Seller”

  1. Very intriguing! It does seem like a satirical portrayal of some aspect of love to me.

  2. bernadette higgins

    just delighted that this fresco was discovered in Castellammare Di Stabbia Campania since it is where my maternal grandmother was from when she emigrated from Italia-such a rare and beautiful find.


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