Bernard Lens was an early practitioner of mezzotint; a printmaking technique that enabled half-tones without using line- or dot-based techniques like hatching, cross-hatching or stipple. The subject of this print is an episode from the story of Cupid and Psyche, as recounted by Ovid and Apuleius.
Psyche is a beautiful princess whose followers have begun to worship her in Venus’s stead. After suffering Venus’s wrath, she resigns herself to the goddess’s service. Venus gives Psyche a series of seemingly impossible tasks, which she completes with the aid of various divinities, a friendly ant and a speaking tower. The final of these is to carry a box to the underworld and recover a dose of Proserpina’s beauty.
After Proserpina grants Psyche’s entreaty and she returns to the light of day, curiosity overcomes her and she opens the box, only to find nothing inside but an “infernal and Stygian sleep.” There, she is discovered by Cupid who, having previously pricked himself with one of his own arrows, has been lovesick for the maiden throughout her ordeals. After drawing her from sleep, Cupid returns the box to Venus and intercedes with Zeus, who gives Psyche ambrosia, the drink of immortality, so that the couple can be married as equals.