top of page

Caravaggio - Amor vincit omnia

by Alexandra Tuschka

The young, naked boy looks boldly at the viewer. He sits a little unsteadily on a ledge, which is wrapped in a white ink. It is Cupid, the son of the beautiful Venus of Greek mythology. He is the god of love - whoever is hit by his arrow is seized by the great feeling of being in love. For this purpose, the young man has two arrows at his disposal, which we also see here: a red one - for the love lust, a black one - for the love sorrow. Thus, with a well-aimed shot, Cupid could influence the course of events more than once. In the original, the title is "Amor vincit omia" - "Cupid conquers all", and this sentence goes back to a line from Vergil's Eclogae (X 69), where it says "Omnia vinvit Amor et nos cedamus amori". Loosely translated, these words can be translated as "Love conquers all, let us also celebrate love." First of all, there is nothing wrong with that.

This Cupid, however, literally rises above all the things we humans cling to. He even seems to be making fun of things a bit with his crooked smile. He meets the viewer free of fear; the unabashed nakedness and his smile are truly "disarming".

On the ground we find musical instruments, symbols of the fine arts; compasses and angles, symbols of science and also armor and laurel wreath, symbolizing war and even crown and scepter, high symbols of power. All this lies carelessly scattered on the floor. In the sheet of music we can see a "V", it could stand for "Victoria" the Latin term for "victory", or it could show the first initial of the commissioner. We also recognize a celestial globe on which the boy seems to have almost taken a seat. This was apparently added late, as an x-ray could reveal. Originally, the edge of the table reached out to it.

Here Cupid is not at all as contemporaries would have expected him to be. No ideal, innocent boy looks out at us; rather, we are probably looking into the face of a bourgeois boy, Cecco, who must have been Caravaggio's model. This face appears again and again in Caravaggio's ouevre. It is assumed that the boy also became Caravaggio's lover. He has a little crooked teeth, the bent posture forms wrinkles on the belly and through the open leg pose we see very present on his genitals. Moreover, he is somehow more sensual than expected. The strong light and shadow control - the chiascouro - makes the boy extremely vivid.

A few piquant details also give the viewer reason to smile. Where is the boy's left arm? Is he holding his right foot? It seems more likely that he is holding the bow with both hands. But here an important detail becomes apparent: the string of the bow is torn! So Cupid would not be able to aim at us.

If we take this detail seriously, it could mean that Cupid's power is only played to the viewer; or else that it has become unnecessary, in view of the many worlds already conquered. However, it must be said that the motif of a broken string recurs in Caravaggio's ouevre and can also be interpreted as a vanitas symbol or simple irritation of the viewer. The celestial globe bears a rough resemblance to the Medici coat of arms, the most influential family in Rome at the time. Enough alienated not to be attackable, one could say with a bit of imagination: the Cupid sh--- on the Medici.

Vincenzo Guistiliano, one of Caravaggio's most important patrons and possibly homosexual, commissioned this work in 1602. It is said to have become his favorite of the five works by the artist in the family collection. Joachim von Sandrart, who was a painter and biographer in the house, considered the Cupid so important that it was covered with a curtain so that it would not "outshine" the other paintings. After the work was in the possession of the Guistilano family until 1812, Frederick William 3rd of Prussia acquired the painting, so that today we can admire it in Berlin.

Caravaggio - Amor vincit omnia

Oil on canvas, 1602/1603, 156 x 113 cm, Gemäldegalerie, Berlin


bottom of page