This entertaining van Maële portfolio Les flèches de plomb (The Lead Arrows) could be subtitled ‘How to Take Revenge on Cupid’, and is dedicated to Madame la Comtesse Dorothée de S—, who in all likelihood needed the consolation of some form of retaliation against romantic notions of love.

Poor Cupid has to suffer a series of indignations, from having his arrows scattered and being peed upon, to finally having his symbolic heart taken out and burned. Dorothée de S— probably felt much better after all that.

There are classical antecedents to the anti-Cupid narrative – in some versions Jupiter, who foresees all the trouble that the child will cause, commands his mother Venus to get rid of it. Venus hides him in the woods, where he cuts his first bow from an ash branch, later exchanging it for a golden bow. He garnishes his quiver with arrows with golden points, which instil irresistible passion, and ones with lead points to ward off rivals. Van Maële’s version, unlike the classical one, sees Jupiter’s command put vividly into action in order to terminate Cupid’s intrigues.

Les flèches de plomb is one of van Maële’s best creations, combining technical skill and witty imagination in equal measure.

We are very grateful to Hans-Jürgen Döpp for these images; Hans-Jürgen, the compiler of many books on erotic art, curates the Venusberg online gallery and bookshop which you can find here.