The scene is taken from literature, specifically the poem Cupid Stealing Honey by the classical Greek poet Theocritus.
The story behind the painting
The poem tells the story of how Cupid complains to his mother, Venus (the goddess of love), of how the bees sting him because he has stolen their hive. He wonders that creatures so small can inflict so much pain. Venus laughs and tells him that their stings can be compared to the wounds that he himself inflicts on all those hit by his arrows. The brief ecstasy of love may soon be replaced by suffering and heartbreak. A sign in the top left corner refers to Theocritus’ poem.
The painting's affiliation with Philipp Melanchton
Seen in the light of the fact that Cranach did illustrations for Luther’s version of the Bible and was closely associated with the inner circle of the Reformation, it is interesting that the poem was published in the name of Philipp Melanchton. Melanchton devised his own version of the teachings of Luther and founded Philippism, a movement that came to be of great importance in Denmark.
The painting was in 1759 transferred from the Kunstkammer at Gottorp Castle to the Royal Collection together with other works, making it the largest Cranach collection outside German-speaking countries.