Sunday, February 24, 2008

Putti; Cherubs; Cupid: What's the Difference?

Cherubic art has winged its way to our hearts and our shabby cottage chic decor. Although the terms putti, cherubs, and cupids are each synonymous with pudgy round little winged motifs, mostly boys - the artistic rendering in subject matter and meaning are decidedly different and should never be confused.

Because I often paint cherubs; and I wanted all of my cherubs to be innocent and sweet, I've exhaustively researched the finer points of cherubic art. How does one know the difference?

Putti - meaning "children" in old Italian. Compositions with emphasis on profane, cultish ceremonies of abandoned revelry often pairing putti with females in different stages of dress or nudity. May also be with just one female, either nude or dressed. The facial expressions of putti generally lack the innocence of cherubs and cupids. Rule of thumb: If there is a female in the painting, it's generally secular and considered putti -not an innocent cherub. An example of putti may be seen here.

Ancient Cupid of Roman Mythology: Britannica Concise Encyclopedia: Ancient Roman god of love in all its varieties, identified with the Greek Eros. Cupid was the son of Mercury and Venus. He was usually represented as a winged infant who carried a bow and quiver of arrows, which he shot at humans to inflict wounds that inspired love or passion. He was also sometimes depicted as a beautiful youth. Though generally considered beneficent, he could be mischievous in matchmaking, often at his mother's behest.

Most of us are familiar with reproductions of the above painting, L'Amour et Psyche, Enfants, 1873, by William-Adolphe Bouguereau . It is often cropped so that the emphasis is on the kiss, deemphasizing the nudity.

Modern Cupids: Sweet little baby-faced figures with bow and arrows often used for Valentine Day card illustrations. Especially appealing in vintage valentines as shown below. Certainly secular, but there isn't anything in the sentiment to cause unease.

Cherubs: Cherubs or cherubim are the first angels mentioned in the Bible and are said to stand next to the Throne of God. In the Bible, they are described as four-winged creatures - a far cry from the baby-like cherubs with which we are so familiar. Since the cherubs did not appear until Adam and Eve committed the original sin, many feel the cherubs represent Adam and Eve - naked and innocent - in the Garden of Eden. It follows naturally that cherubs are often cast as guardians in garden settings, surrounded with florals, busy with their work of tending to nature, protection and adding to the beauty of gardens. Many are used in outdoor statuary and fountains. Their expressions can be sweet or fiercely protective. Cherubs have become symbolic of wee guardian angels in our homes.

My Paintings of Cherubic Art: Below, two of my original paintings, each of cherubs, spotlight two different "looks", each designed to convey an essence of guardianship. The first painting, shows motion of a determined garden cherub or angel protector, not near as babyish, with what I hoped to depict as a serious expression of being fully on guard for danger to those for whom he is responsible. He is carrying a dipper of water, evocative of his role as provider for the area and those under his care.The second cherub is descending - curious about a new nest of eggs. I reached for an expression of sweet wonder on this cherub's face. I tried to show that the birds were comfortable with the cherub , unthreatened, without the instinctive need to protect their eggs - they know this sweet cherub intends no harm. My goal in composition and design is to always strive to capture the purity and innocence of cherubic art, never putti; because there is a big difference...

Click Photos to enlarge

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Miss Rhea said...

Beautiful as always !! I love the one with the bluebirds. :)

Devonia said...

Thank you Miss Rhea! I pretended I went right along with you on your recent trip (read about on your blog). We had such fun, didn't we? I'm going to hold you to that promise that spring is on its way. :)

Shawn said...

I'll be darned! I never knew that about Putti's.
Very informative and beautiful paintings!!!

debbie said...

where might i purchase one of your calendars? thanks, debbie =0)

Jody Williams said...

Very interesting to read! Thank you for clarifying the difference!