Hi everyone and welcome back to Exploring Art, this is Alessandro. Today we are going to discover the difference between angels and putti. They are in fact both really popular art characters, we can see them in paintings, sculptures, architectures, but why are they so important? What’s their role or purpose?
Nothing in art is casual. During this beautiful journey together, we are learning that every single detail is a symbol with a meaning and that’s true in particular for these figures that are often in background, but present in many religious and no-religious works of art. Angel vs Putto
So let’s start with the little chubby ones. A putto, plural putti, is an Italian word that comes from the Latin word putus, meaning “boy” or “child”. Today it means either toddler winged angel or, a bit less common, toddler boy.
Putti in fact can be depicted with wings or without, but for sure they are chubby male children usually naked. The reason of that difference goes back to the classical mythology: winged infants were believed to influence human lives. The most famous one was for sure Cupid: the god of desire, erotic love, attraction. His Greek counterpart is Eros who in, Classical Greek art, is generally portrayed as a winged youth, but during the Hellenistic period he was increasingly depicted as a chubby boy.
On that time, his iconography acquired the well-known bow and arrow that are visible everywhere on Valentine’s Day.
Putti fall and rise
During the Middle Ages, Catholic religion changed the role of the putti from symbol of passion to a more religious meaning. However, because of this transition, they were not really popular and artists preferred to depict angels instead. In particular to avoid troubles with the Catholic Church that it used to take that stuff really seriously back then.
It is just with Renaissance, thanks to the rediscovery of the classical philosophy, that putti became really popular with a final “explosion” in Baroque art since they were perfect to match the movement, exuberant details, surprise and scenography typical of that style.
In Baroque art they represented also the omnipresence of God, but we cannot confuse them with the angels.
AngelThe angels are in fact spiritual beings intermediate between God and men. They are present in almost every culture and religion. However, the most common representations of them are as beautiful figures with big wings and elegant floating dresses.
Angels’ originsThe earliest known representation of angels with wings is on what is called the Prince’s Sarcophagus. Dated back to around 400, we can see the angels depicted as the winged Victories in classical art.
One of the biggest challenges has been to break with the static pose to reach a sense of movement that has been fully achieved with Renaissance. The cloth was used to help suggesting the idea of lightness and flight, making them even more beautifully elegant.
So, these are the differences between putto and angel. I am sure that from now on you will pay more attention to them in the works of art.
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