The Cultural Services of the French Embassy and The Metropolitan Museum of Art have announced the renewal of a loan agreement of Michelangelo’s Cupid, his sole marble sculpture on view at a museum in North America. Originally loaned to The Met in 2009 for a ten-year period, Cupid will remain at the Museum for another decade.
Max Hollein, Director of The Met, said, “Michelangelo’s youthful genius is apparent in his exquisitely rendered Cupid. The work emits an emotional and intellectual charge and it is an honor to present this stunning sculpture to our millions of visitors. We are incredibly grateful to the French Embassy for allowing this historic work to continue to grace our galleries.”
It is believed that Michelangelo carved the statue while still in his mid-teens. It has a quiver, but there is no sign he ever had Cupid’s traditional wings. The statue was first recorded in 1556 at the house of Jacopo Galli in Rome, where the work is identified as Apollo. Galli is known to have owned a Cupid sculpted by the young Michelangelo, so it is significant that by 1650, when the figure occupied a garden niche at the Villa Borghese in Rome, he had been retitled Cupid.
By 1902, the sculpture was gravely damaged. Nonetheless, the dealer Stefano Bardini recognized it as Michelangelo’s work when he offered it at auction in London, but this attribution was soon forgotten or discounted. It was later purchased by the architect Stanford White and installed on a fountain at the mansion of Mr. and Mrs. Harry Payne Whitney, located at 972 Fifth Avenue.
In 1952, the mansion became the home of the Cultural services of the French Embassy. Visible from the sidewalk, Cupid remained hidden in plain sight until the mid-1990s, when a professor at New York University, Kathleen Weil-Garris Brandt, announced her discovery of a “Michelangelo on Fifth Avenue.” Although many greeted her attribution with skepticism, one who did not was Metropolitan Museum of Art curator James David Draper, now Curator Emeritus in the Museum’s Department of European Sculpture and Decorative Arts.
In 2009, the Cupid came to The Met as part of a focused exhibition that dealt with the question of Michelangelo’s authorship. Three years later, The Met hosted an international two-day symposium titled “Michelangelo and Florence in the 1490s” that established scholarly consensus; the Cupid was accepted as a sculpture designed and carved by the youthful Michelangelo. In 2017, Met curator Carmen Bambach presented the Cupid as a touchstone for understanding Michelangelo’s early career in her groundbreaking exhibition Michelangelo: Divine Draftsman and Designer. Today, Michelangelo’s Cupid is the dramatic focal point in The Met’s gallery featuring 16th century Italian sculpture and decorative arts.