Amor Vincit Omnia (Victorious Cupid) (1602) by Caravaggio
Interpretation of Mythological Painting of Baroque Cupid

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Amor Vincit Omnia
(Victorious Cupid)
By Caravaggio.
Considered to be one of the
Greatest Paintings of its type.

Amor Vincit Omnia (Victorious Cupid) (1602)


Explanation of Other Famous Paintings by Caravaggio


Name: Amor Vincit Omnia (Love Conquers All) (Victorious Cupid) (1602)
Artist: Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571-1610)
Medium: Oil painting on canvas
Genre: Mythological painting
Movement: Italian Baroque art
Location: Gemaldegalerie SMPK, Berlin

For an explanation of other important pictures from the Baroque era, see: Famous Paintings Analyzed (1250-1800).

For analysis of mythological
works by Baroque artists
like Caravaggio, see
our educational articles:
Art Evaluation and
How to Appreciate Paintings.

Interpretation of Amor Vincit Omnia (Victorious Cupid)

Born in Milan, Caravaggio was an apprentice to Simone Peterzano, a former pupil of Rubens, before working in Caravaggio a town near Bergamo. About 1592 he moved to Rome where his early genre painting The Cardsharps (1594, Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth) caught the eye of Cardinal Francesco Maria Del Monte (1549-1627), one of the leading connoisseurs in Rome, who became his principal patron. Caravaggio painted a number of intimate, small-scale works for Del Monte and his circle, including: Boy with a Basket of Fruit (1593, Galleria Borghese); Young Sick Bacchus (1593-4, Galleria Borghese); Basket of Fruit (1594, Biblioteca Ambrosiana, Milan); Boy Bitten by a Lizard (1594-6, Fondazione Roberto Longhi, Florence); The Lute Player (1595 Hermitage, St Petersburg); Bacchus (1595, Uffizi Gallery, Florence); and Narcissus (1597-99, Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica). This small-scale portrait art and still life painting soon gave way to larger scale Biblical art, like The Calling of St Matthew (1599-1600) and The Martyrdom of St Matthew (1599-1600) for the Contarelli Chapel in the church of San Luigi dei Francesi. It was these large-format religious paintings that established Caravaggio as one of the boldest and best history painters in Rome, and allowed him to concentrate his efforts on serious religious art for public consumption, rather than private paintings for the cognoscenti. One exception to this was Amor Vincit Omnia, or "Victorious Cupid", which he completed in 1602.

Allegory and mythology often seem to distance the subject from the viewer. A Renaissance Cupid, for instance, is primarily plump and mischievous, and, even if one has no trouble in identifying him as the god of Love with his wings and weapons, it is difficult to imagine him partaking in its emotions or lusts with, say, a beautiful and mature Venus. But in the hands of the firebrand Caravaggio, all reticence evaporates.

A tempestuous character, the repeat offender and perennial exile, Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio is known to the history of art for his ground-breaking and varied compositions that inspired a whole new vein in European early Baroque painting: violent, narrative, dark-hued, and locally lit, filled with real and not idealized physical types.



Dating from Caravaggio's second, Roman, period, Amor Vincit Omnia was commissioned by the the Italian banker and art collector Marchese Vincenzo Giustiniani (1564-1637). Unlike the artist's other small-scale cupids, this one is more than 5-feet in height. (NOTE: In classical mythology, Cupid - whose Latin name 'Cupido', means 'desire' - is the god of erotic love, desire and attraction. He is often presented as the son of Venus, goddess of love, and Mars, god of war.) Called in one inventory "laughing Love in the act of disparaging the World," it was hung behind a curtain that Vincenzo would draw aside to dazzle his guests. Giustiniani had also bought the first version of Caravaggio's St. Matthew and the Angel, originally intended for the Contarelli Chapel in San Luigi dei Francesi in Rome. The clerics had rejected it as having neither the decorum nor the appearance of a saint, with his feet ignobly exposed to the populace!

This naked Cupid, various parts of whose body seem to be at different ages, was a boy named Cecco, a favourite model who was also the painter's servant and pupil and - some said - his lover. Identified only as Cecco del Caravaggio – Caravaggio's Cecco - he was an artist active in Rome about 1610-1625, who painted very much in a Caravaggist style. The most arresting feature of Amor Vincit Omnia is the young model's obvious delight in posing for the painting. As a result, the picture is really a portrait of Cecco rather than a depiction of a Roman demi-god.

The painter, however, doubtless with an eye to the then Draconian laws on homosexuality, vehemently denied the relationship at one of the many trials in which he became embroiled. Completed certainly by mid-1603 (probably 1601-2), this fleshy, gloating youth, sporting what appear to be costume-department wings, represents "Earthly" Love triumphing over, or rather playing havoc with, the attributes of human endeavor and reason. Indeed, the painting perfectly illustrates a line from Virgil's Eclogues: "Love conquers everything; yield we too to love!" Although not actually destroyed, the astronomer's globe, writer's quill, ruler's crown, architect's or geometer's set-square, and Ancient hero's or poet's laurel-wreath are of no avail when Love calls. The discarded armour also offers no defense: even the new-fangled violin is tossed aside in favor of a precious lute, love's favourite instrument.

Though the pivoting torso recalls Michelangelo's similarly "autobiographical" Victory (Palazzo Vecchio, Florence), the dark background exemplifies Caravaggio's hallmark tenebrism, as it focuses our attention on Cupid as he almost bursts out of the picture plane. Notice also the use of bold chiaroscuro down the inside of the right leg, the underside of the right arm, and the left-side of the chest. These painterly techniques later became the hallmarks of Caravaggism, which influenced painters throughout Europe.

In 1606, Caravaggio left Rome and sought sanctuary in Naples, following a brawl in which he killed a man. For more about his work in the south of Italy, see: Caravaggio in Naples (1607-10) and Painting in Naples (1600-1700).

Explanation of Other Famous Paintings by Caravaggio

Conversion on the way to Damascus (1601)
Cerasi Chapel, Santa Maria del Popolo, Rome.

Supper at Emmaus (1601)
National Gallery, London.

Crucifixion of Saint Peter (1601)
Cerasi Chapel, Santa Maria del Popolo, Rome.

Death of the Virgin (1601-6)
Louvre, Paris.

The Entombment of Christ (1601-3)
Vatican Museums, the Vatican, Rome.


• For an explanation of other mythological paintings, see: Homepage.

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