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Scenic, Psyche Bringing Venus a Goblet of Water from the Fountain of Youth

This is a Scenic. It was designed by Merry-Joseph Blondel and manufactured by Joseph Dufour et Cie.. It is dated ca. 1820 and we acquired it in 2013. Its medium is block printed on handmade paper. It is a part of the Wallcoverings department.

Most scenic papers were designed to be continuous, with the first panel lining up with the last to create a seamless landscape. Les Amours de Psyche (The Loves of Psyche), however, was designed to be hung in sections, with each scene surrounded by borders. The full set contains 26 panels depicting 12 different scenes that range in width from one to four panels. The full set required 1,245 wood blocks to print.

In the tale of Cupid and Psyche, which dates back to the 2nd century AD, Psyche’s great beauty causes Venus to be jealous. Venus instructs her son, Cupid, to make Psyche fall in love with a hideous monster. Startled by her great beauty, Cupid accidently pricks himself with an arrow and falls in love with Psyche instead. Under the care of Cupid, Psyche is carried off to a palace and waited on by invisible servants. Cupid tells Psyche he can only visit at night and she must never try to see him. Psyche’s jealous sisters convince her that Cupid is a monster whom she must kill. Psyche’s distrust causes Cupid to flee, taking the palace with him. Out of desperation, Psyche approaches Venus for help. Venus instructs Psyche to perform a set of tasks in order to be reunited with Cupid.
This scene shows a kneeling Psyche offering Venus a goblet of water from the fountain of youth. This was the last feat Psyche was asked to perform by Venus. Upon its successful completion, Psyche was transformed into a goddess, allowed to marry Cupid, and the two lived happily ever after. The scene is set within a severe Empire-style interior with marble-tiled walls, columns, fountains, and a coffered ceiling. The figures are all dressed in classical costume.
Designed by Merry-Joseph Blondel and first printed by the French firm Joseph Dufour et Cie in 1816, Les Amours de Psyche was considered the firm’s masterpiece. After Joseph Dufour’s death, the woodblocks were sold to Desfosse & Karth, who printed five more editions until 1931. The blocks were badly damaged during World War II; no sets have been printed since.
This example is an early printing on joined sheets of handmade paper, which dates it to about 1820. The first scenic wallpaper was not printed on continuous machine-made paper until 1830. Although French manufacturers began making continuous lengths of paper by machine in the 1820s, many felt that the joined sheets of handmade paper were of better quality than those made by machine.
The museum’s collection includes two original drawings by Blondel from 1815 for the Les Amours de Psyche scenic paper. One of the drawings is related to the proposed scene, while the other is for the Reconciliation of Venus and Psyche. Although the museum’s collection also includes a full set of this scenic paper, printed in 1923, only one scene from the set has been fully conserved and is exhibitable. Acquiring this piece would be a wonderful addition to the collection, as it is an early printing and would also allow the museum to exhibit an alternate scene from the set.

This object was featured in our Object of the Week series in a post titled Psyche's Offering to Venus.

This object was donated by Henry Trevor and Elizabeth Werter. It is credited Gift of Elizabeth Werter and Henry Trevor.

Its dimensions are

H x W: 182.9 x 137.2 cm (6 ft. x 54 in.)

Cite this object as

Scenic, Psyche Bringing Venus a Goblet of Water from the Fountain of Youth; Designed by Merry-Joseph Blondel (French, 1781–1853; active Paris, France 1802–1851); Manufactured by Joseph Dufour et Cie. (France); France; block printed on handmade paper; H x W: 182.9 x 137.2 cm (6 ft. x 54 in.); Gift of Elizabeth Werter and Henry Trevor; 2013-9-1

This image is in the public domain (free of copyright restrictions). You can copy, modify, and distribute this work without contacting the Smithsonian. For more information, visit the Smithsonian’s Terms of Use page.

If you would like to cite this object in a Wikipedia article please use the following template:

<ref name=CH>{{cite web |url= |title=Scenic, Psyche Bringing Venus a Goblet of Water from the Fountain of Youth |author=Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum |accessdate=4 June 2023 |publisher=Smithsonian Institution}}</ref>