Cupid mercilessly beats a prostrate man, while two women look on, hands clasped. The one in a state of undress probably personifies carnal love, while the other is fully dressed and carries an ermine, often used as a symbol of chastity. This may be understood as an illustration of how love encompasses, but is also split between desire and devotion.
These four paintings are Allegories of Love, each concentrating on a specific aspect. In turn, they seem to deal with ‘Unfaithfulness’, ‘Scorn’, ‘Respect’ and ‘Happy Union’, although their precise meanings remain unclear and have been much debated. The costumes and hairstyles may indicate a date in the 1570s.
They were probably made to decorate a ceiling and form a complete series. We do not know who commissioned them, but their presence in 1648 in the Prague Castle suggests that it may have been one of the Holy Roman Emperors, Ferdinand I (died 1564) or Maximilian II (died 1576), or a wealthy patron at the court. Alternatively, they may have been painted for a location in Venice, as two details from them are recorded in the famous sketchbook that Van Dyck kept in Italy between 1621 and 1627.