The depictions of Cupid with a goose can be traced to Greek art. During the Hellenistic period, the representation of Eros, Greek counterpart of Cupid, underwent a significant change. The god who had previously been depicted as a slender, nude youth was re-envisioned as a chubby toddler. This shift in Cupid’s form seems to run parallel to the increasing interest in the representation of children as subject matter in Hellenistic art. This notably youthful image of Eros carried over into that of Cupid in the Roman period, not only in representations of the god himself but also in mythological or genre scenes depicting multiple Erotes or putti.
The connection between Cupid and the goose also stems from Greek art, where Eros was depicted on vases as giving geese as a gift to Aphrodite. Both Aphrodite and Eros are shown holding or even riding a goose on vases and terracotta sculptures. The geese were considered sacred animals of Aphrodite. Aristophanes notes that many youths have indeed succumbed to their desires and have been ‘led away led away by the gift of a quail, a waterfowl, a goose, or a cock’ (Aristophanes, Birds 685 ff). Cupid feeding a goose is a metaphor for hard to tame love or stubborn love, which is here represented by the goose.
To learn more about depictions of Cupid, visit our relevant post: Eros’ Iconography in Classical Times.