08.14.16: Cupid’s Span

Cupid's Span sculpture on the Embarcadero in San Francisco, with city in background. 


Technical information

Sept. 28, 2005,
4:56 p.m.

37°47'29” N, 122°23'22" W
(Show in Google Maps)

Canon EOS 20D

Canon EF-S 10-22 f/3.5-4.5 (17mm)  


1/30th second


A couple of months ago I posted a featured gallery with photos of the Cubed Curve, a sculpture in midtown Manhattan. In the gallery description I said how I like photographing public art, showing how it works with the buildings that surround it, and I mentioned that Cubed Curve was one of my favorite pieces of public art to photograph. I noted that the other was Cupid’s Span on the Embarcadero in San Francisco, but said that was another story for another day.

I guess this is that day.

Cupid’s Span is a giant  sculpture by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Brugge. It’s one of a number of sculptures along the Embarcadero in San Francisco. The 60-foot-high sculpture represents a bow and arrow shooting down into a small pedestrian park. 

The sculpture was installed in November 2002.

When viewed from one side the San Francisco skyline is in the background. When viewed from the other side, the Bay Bridge is in the background. And the colors really pop when viewed on a clear day against a blue sky.

According to a statement from the artists on their web site:

"Inspired by San Francisco's reputation as the home port of Eros, we began our project for a small park on the Embarcadero along San Francisco Bay by trying out the subject of Cupid's stereotypical bow and arrow. The first sketches were made of the subject with the bowstring drawn back, poised on the feathers of the arrow, which pointed up to the sky.


"When Coosje van Bruggen found this position too stiff and literal, she suggested turning the image upside down: the arrow and the central part of the bow could be buried in the ground, and the tail feathers, usually downplayed, would be the focus of attention. That way the image became metamorphic, looking like both a ship and a tightened version of a suspension bridge, which seemed to us the perfect accompaniment to the site. In addition, the object functioned as a frame for the highly scenic situation, enclosing — depending on where one stood — either the massed buildings of the city's downtown or the wide vista over the water and the Bay Bridge toward the distant mountains.

"As a counterpoint to romantic nostalgia, we evoked the mythological account of Eros shooting his arrow into the earth to make it fertile. The sculpture was placed on a hill, where one could imagine the arrow being sunk under the surface of plants and prairie grasses. By slanting the bow's position, Coosje added a sense of acceleration to the Cupid's Span. Seen from its ‘stern,’ the bow-as-boat seems to be tacking on its course toward the white tower of the city’s Ferry Building.”

Note that I usually post one photo for my photo-of-the week, but I made an exception this time. I couldn’t decide which photo I wanted to use. I like the photo with the city in the background with rays of the afternoon sun stretching around the building at left, so I made it the featured photo. But I also like the photos with the Bay Bridge in the background as well as the photo of the sculpture surrounded by scaffolding during a refurbishing. So I decided to use them all.

Each week I will post a photo from my collection with an explanation of how I got the shot. Previous photos of the week are in the archives.

Cupid's Span sculpture on the Embarcadero with Bay Bridge in background, San Francisco.

The Bay Bridge can be seen beneath the bow of Cupid's Span, a sculpture on the Embarcadero in San Francisco.