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Cupid spurning Riches
Guercino (Giovanni Francesco Barbieri)
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Guercino (Giovanni Francesco Barbieri)

Cento, Ferrara (Italy), 1591 - Bologna (Italy), 1666

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Cupid spurning Riches

Ca. 1654. Oil on canvas.
Room 004

Guido Reni`s painting shows a young Cupid facing the viewer, with the seashore behind him, his left leg bent and left foot resting on a slab of stone. Cupid raises his left hand to a dove and with his right hand holds his bow. The loosened bowstring indicates that he has been disarmed; his remaining arrows lie in a quiver discarded on the ground. The subject appears to be a variation of Love tamed, in Cesare Ripa`s Iconologia (first published 1593), in which Cupid is represented seated on a rock with his bows and arrows under his feet, holding a bird in his left hand and an hourglass in his right. Instead of holding the bird, however, Cupid is shown by Reni as either receiving the arrow from the dove, or relinquishing the arrow to it. On the shore in the distance another Cupid is visible in the act of drawing his bow. Since the dove is a traditional attribute of Venus, it may be that Cupid is being given the arrow by Venus`s dove in order to recommence his work, and that this is what is taking place in the background. If so, the message of the painting is that the taming of love is only temporary.

Guercino`s Cupid spurning riches, c.1654 (P205), shows a similarly youthful Cupid turning to one side, eyes averted, while emptying a purse of coins. A recent restoration has brilliantly revealed the depth of colour of this work, in particular the vivid flash of orange where the light catches the inner lining of the purse. More coins are piled on the ground, and a crossbow can be glimpsed in the shadows behind. A single arrow lies in the immediate foreground at Cupid`s feet, while on the left sits a large globe of the world. The subject has traditionally been interpreted as a representation of Virtuous Cupid, but although the single arrow and the globe (representing the universality of love) fit this identification, the motif of emptying an upturned purse does not. Ripa, for example, recommends that Amor di Virtù (Love of Virtue), a related personification, be represented as Cupid holding laurel wreaths representing the three cardinal virtues: justice, fortitude and temperance.

Both paintings were first recorded in the inventories of the Alcázar Palace, Madrid, in 1666, where they were described as a pair of autograph works by Reni and Guercino. They were inventoried again in 1686 when hanging in a room named Pieza del Despacho de verano en cuyo techo está pintado Apolo, which was an office in the summer quarters in the northern section of the palace.

A letter from Camillo Massimo to his friend, the antiquarian Giovanni Pietro Bellori, establishes that these two paintings were diplomatic gifts to Philip IV, given by Massimo in 1655 in his role as papal nuncio (ambassador). Massimo had been appointed by Pope Innocent X Pamphilj, but on landing in Spain in February 1654 was refused permission to proceed to Madrid and was forced to remain for more than a year in the small town of Campillo de Altobuey, between Valencia and Madrid. He was only able to take up his appointment in May 1655, following the election on 18 April of a new pope, Alexander VII Chigi. Massimo`s correspondence suggests that the previous papal nuncio had attempted to discredit him as a protégé of the Barberini family, the papal family prior to Innocent X and who were well-known supporters of France, Spain`s main rival.

In this difficult situation Massimo urgently needed to correct the perception that he was a Barberini protégé and to demonstrate his political allegiance to the pro-Spanish Pamphilj regime. He may have brought the painting by Reni with him, intending to present it as a gift. Although Reni had died in 1642, Massimo could have obtained the work during the artist`s lifetime, or later from a third party. The presentation of gifts by ambassadors on arrival at court was an essential part of diplomacy, and paintings were particularly appropriate for Philip IV, who was known to be an avid collector. The Modenese ambassador wrote in 1652 that nowadays nothing pleases the king as much as the gift of notable pictures, because his inclination for the art of painting is greater than before.

Cupid spurning riches, c.1654, corresponds to one recorded in his libro dei conti (account book) on 19 June 1654, when a payment of 10 Spanish doble (38 1/2 Roman scudi) was made for an Amor virtuoso, the money being received from a certain Padre D. Salvatore of Piacenza. The fact that the payment was made in Spanish currency suggests that the buyer was Spanish or a resident in Spain, although doble were also used as currency within Italy. Massimo had already been four months in Campillo by the date of the payment, and could therefore have been the buyer, using Padre Salvatore as his middleman. It seems, therefore, that Massimo may have commissioned the work from Guercino to form a pair with the Reni. If he paid for the painting in June 1654 there were ten months before it was presented to the Spanish King in May 1655.

Considering that it was a small work with only one figure, this is enough time for it to have been painted and transported to Spain.

Massimo`s experiences at Campillo may have made him want to present a gift with a more pointed message than the Reni`s message of Love tamed. Cupid is shown in the act of turning away from the purse of gold coins that he is emptying. The most prominent coin carries a recognisable portrait of Pope Urban VIII Barberini and an inscription that includes the letters VRBANUS VIII. What better way for Massimo to counter the perception of him as a Barberini supporter than to present a painting of Virtuous Cupid spurning the riches of the Barberini?

The painting would have carried Massimo`s private message to the King that he owed his allegiance to the papacy of Innocent X, rather than to the extravagant Barberini regime. This point would usefully have been underlined by the presence in Reni`s Cupid, of the dove, a bird that features prominently in the coat of arms of the Pamphilj family, even though the artist would not have originally intended such an allusion (Text drawn from Beaven, L.: Italian Masterpieces. From Spain`s Royal Court, Museo del Prado, 2014, pp. 104-106).


Technical data

Related artworks

Oil on canvas, 1637 - 1638
Reni, Guido
Inventory number
Guercino (Giovanni Francesco Barbieri)
Cupid spurning Riches
Ca. 1654
Height: 99 cm; Width: 75 cm
Royal Collection (Real Alcázar, Madrid, cuarto bajo- pieza del despacho de verano en cuyo techo esta pintado Apolo, 1700, nº 282; Real Alcázar, Madrid, cuarto nuevo de la Reina, 1703, s. n.; Palacio Real Nuevo, Madrid, antecámara de la serenísima infanta, 1772, nº 993; ¿Palacio Real, Madrid, habitación del infante don Carlos-sexta pieza, 1814-1818, nº 993?).

Bibliography +

Malvasia, Carlo Cesare, Felsina Pittrice.Vite Dei Pittori Bolognesi.Vol.II, Domenico Barbieri, 1678, pp. 380?.

Pérez Sánchez, Alfonso E., Pintura italiana del S. XVII en España, Universidad Fundación Valdecilla, Madrid, 1965.

Pérez Sánchez, Alfonso E., Pintura italiana del siglo XVII: exposición conmemorativa del ciento cincuenta aniversario de la fundación del Museo del Prado, Ministerio de Educación y Ciencia, Madrid, 1970, pp. 318.

Orihuela, Mercedes, El ''Prado disperso''. Cuadros depositados en las provincias de La Coruña, Lugo, Orense y Pontevedra. Mondoñedo. Palacio Episcopal, Boletín del Museo del Prado, IX, 1988, pp. 139.

Museo Nacional del Prado, Museo del Prado: inventario general de pinturas (I) La Colección Real, Museo del Prado, Espasa Calpe, Madrid, 1990, pp. nº714.

Ghelfi, Barbara, Il Libro Dei Conti del Guercino 1629-1666 [, Nuova Alfa, 1997, pp. 165 nº484.

El Jardín de Melibea, Sociedad Estatal para la Conmemoración de los Centenarios, Madrid, 2000.

Beaven, Lisa, Reni's Cupid with a low and Guercino's Cupid, The Burlington magazine, 142, 2000, pp. 437 lám. 25.

González Martínez, Eloy, Un regalo de Felipe IV en el Museo de Pontevedra: el "Amor desinteresado" de Guercino,, El Museo de Pontevedra, 58, 2004, pp. 201-206.

González Martínez, Eloy y Diéguez Rodríguez, Ana, Dos imágenes del amor para Felipe IV: Guido Reni y Guercino, En: César Chaparro, José Julio García, José Roso y Jesús Ureña (eds), Paisajes emblemáticos: construcción de la imagen simbólica en Europa y América, Editorial Regional de Extremadura, Mérida, 2008, pp. 535-552.

Díaz Padrón, Matías, El lienzo de Vertumno y Pomona de Rubens y los cuartos bajos de verano del Alcázar de Madrid, Rubens Picture Ltd., 2009, pp. 77.

Wenley,R, Guercino in Glasgow, Master drawings, 48, 2010, pp. 179-194.

Beaven, L., Guercino 'Cupid' en:, Italian masterpieces from Spain's royal court, Museo del Prado, National Gallery of Victoria Thames & Hudson, 2014, pp. 104-107.

Strinati, C. et al., Guercino e le donne. Il ritratto femminile come veicolo di Grazia, Bononia University Press, Fondazione Sorgente group, Roma, 2014, pp. 118.

Greub, Thierry, Der Platz des Bildes und der 'Platz des Königs', Diego Velázquez 'Las Meninas' im Sommer-Arbeitszimmer Philipps IV, Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte, Heft 3-4, 2015, pp. 441-487 [466 f.17].

Martínez Leiva, Gloria; Rodríguez Rebollo, Ángel, El inventario del Alcázar de Madrid de 1666. Felipe IV y su colección artística, Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, Madrid, 2015, pp. 279 nº 173.

Francucci, Massimo, 'Giovanni F.B. detto il Guercino. San Mateo e l' angelo' En: Guercino tra sacro e profano, Skira, 2017, pp. 55 f.10.

Turner, Nicholas, The paintings of Guercino: a revised and expanded catalogue raisonné, Ugo Bozzi Editore,, 2017, pp. 712-3 n.423.

Other inventories +

Inv. Fernando VII, Palacio Nuevo, 1814-1818. Núm. ¿993?.
Habitacion del Señor Infante Don Carlos [...] Sexta pieza [...] {21868-21869} 993 / vara y quarta alto vara de ancho = Cupido con vn pajaro herido de vna flecha = el Amor despreciado de las riquezas = escuela de Murillo

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1972. Núm. 205.

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1910. Núm. 205.

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1872-1907. Núm. 253.

Inv. Testamentaría Carlos II, Alcázar de Madrid, 1701-1703. Núm. 282.
Pieza del despacho de Verano en cuio techo esta pintado Apolo [...] 282 / Ytten Un Cupido del mismo tamaño [una vara de alto y tres cuartas de ancho] de mano del Guarchino Con marco dorado tasado en Cientto y Ueintte Doblones ... 120

Inv. Real Museo, 1857. Núm. 714.
Guercino. / 714. Un Cupido con un bolsillo derramando dinero. / Parece una alegoría del menosprecio que el Amor hace de la riqueza. / Alto 3 pies, 6 pulg, 8 lin; ancho 2 pies, 8 pulg.

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1854-1858. Núm. 714.

Inv. Carlos III, Palacio Nuevo, 1772. Núm. 993.
Antecámara de la Serenísima Infanta [...] {12835-12836} 993-994 / Otros dos [quadros] el vno que representa Cupido con vna palomita en la mano derecha y el otro con vn bolson en la mano vertiendo dinero de vara y quarta de alto y vara de ancho originales de Guido Reno

Inv. María Luisa Gabriela de Saboya, Alcázar de Madrid, 1703. Núm. s. n..
De la pieza del Despacho del Verano en cuyo techo está pintado Apolo se sacaron las pinturas siguientes. [...] [68] Itt. un Cupido del tamaño de mano de Guarchino con marco dorado colocado en mismo la Galería nueva de la Reyna nra. sra.

Exhibitions +

Arte y mito. Los dioses del Prado
15.10.2020 - 14.03.2021

Italian Masterpieces from Spain's Royal Court. Museo Nacional del Prado
16.05.2014 - 31.08.2014

Location +

Room 004 (On Display)


Displayed objects +



Orb / Sphere

Update date: 11-04-2022 | Registry created on 02-12-2015

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