Children's take on cupid and psyche

Laura Oxley visits the 'Inspire' exhibition at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge.

Recent years have seen arts subjects often given low priority in mainstream school curriculums, despite the potential therapeutic value of the arts and the importance of creativity as a skill for future employability. The Inspire 2020 exhibition at The Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge seeks to change this, by promoting engagement with the arts by school pupils and their teachers. It is the first exhibition of work by primary school children in the Octagon Gallery at the museum.

The Fitzwilliam Museum has a long-established schools programme which aims to encourage pupils to look deeply and thoughtfully at objects and art, and to respond with imagination and creativity. The introduction to the exhibition states that it ‘celebrates young people’s creativity at a time when there are widespread concerns over the decline of arts subjects in schools.’ The Inspire exhibition builds on the National Gallery’s project, Take One Picture. This project encourages schools to take one painting as a source of cross-curricular inspiration.

The painting that has been chosen as the source of inspiration for the Inspire exhibition is ‘Cupid and Psyche’ by Jacopo del Sellaio (1442 – 1493). The painting tells the Ancient Greek story of the Princess Psyche who marries Cupid, the god of love. Children from a number of local schools have looked at the painting, using it as a source of ideas and responding with creative endeavours across the curriculum. The exhibition states that looking closely is an ‘excellent starting point for research and discovery’. I thought this could also be particularly apposite for psychologists!

Children as young as six-years-old were involved in creating the artwork on display in the exhibition. The pupils were asked, ‘What inspires you?’. They had the opportunity to try new techniques and work together on a number of projects arising from looking closely at del Sellaio’s painting. Some of the children have used egg tempera to paint and added gold leaf to their pictures, replicating the techniques used by del Sellaio in ‘Cupid and Psyche’. Others have drawn extremely detailed pictures of wings, and others have used wire and reclaimed wood to create models representing what love means to them. As well as the paintings and sculptures, there were also transcripts of imagined phone calls and love letters between Cupid and Psyche.

For younger visitors to the exhibition, there were some hands-on aspects with interactive elements to keep them engaged. One table is set up with the types of materials and tools that would have been used by del Sellaio to create the painting. Visitors are able to handle these objects and are invited to guess what each may have been used for. There is also a reproduction of a part of a panel painting, just like ‘Cupid and Psyche’, with a magnifying glass attached, so that visitors can closely examine the textures and techniques that have been used to create it.

The Inspire exhibition is on at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge until March 2020. If you are in the area, then I would recommend popping in for a look. The rest of the museum is also fascinating and there is free entry, so it is well worth a visit.

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