11.17.19: Cupid's Span

"Cupid's Span" is a 60-foot-high sculpture of a bow and arrow shooting down
into a small pedestrian park in San Francisco. The Bay Bridge is in the background.


Technical information

Sept. 28, 2005, 
4:02 p.m.

37°47'30.078" N 122°23'24.851" W
(Show in Google Maps)

Canon EOS 20D

Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 (10mm)


1/160th second


One of my favorite things to do in San Francisco is to walk along the Embarcadero, looking at sights along and across the San Francisco Bay on one side and at the city’s skyline on the other.

There are always interesting things to see, but one that stands out is the giant bow and arrow stuck in the ground.

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. I shot this photo in September 2005.

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.”

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.