In Renaissance and Baroque art there are very few misidentified beings as the putto. The putto exists in various forms and functions since the days of Ancient Greece. In the Middle Ages the putto disappeared from the artistic and religious natures that the ancients used.
Instead of disappearing forever, they underwent an artistic rediscovery in the Renaissance (1420’s) and used extensively throughout the Baroque period appearing in everything from frescoes to paintings to sculpture. Eventually they became misidentified as baby angels.
Here are 7 facts and clarifications about the Putto :
- Putto actually means, “toddler winged angel” or “toddler boy” in Italian.
- Originally they were of Greek origin as companions to different goddesses and gods or sometimes messenger spirits. The most famous gods and goddesses were Eros and Aphrodite,
- Romans used them to portray a protective spirit called a genius.
- Donatello (the famous sculptor from Florence) revived the Putto in the renaissance by infusing the forms with Christian motifs.
- Other Renaissance artist continued to use the Putto for both religious and non-religious functions until the mid 1720’s.
- The putto is not a cherub. Cherubs, short for Cherubim are angels depicted with the faces of a human, lion, eagle, and ox. They also have 4 wings.
- It was in a 19th century French artistic revival of putti as beings of prosperity and leisure that they began to be mistakenly called cherubs.
Since the putto exists on many churches and secular buildings through the renaissance and baroque time periods it is rather easy to understand why it is found on Spanish missionary churches in the Southwestern United States.
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