The putto (pl. putti) is a figure of a pudgy human baby, almost always male, often naked and having wings, found especially in Italian Renaissance art. The figure derives from Ancient art but was "rediscovered" in the early Quattrocento. These images are frequently, and erroneously, confused with cherubim. [Art historian Juan Carlos Martinez writes: "Originally, Cherubs and Putti had distinctly different roles, with the former being sacred, and the latter, profane. That is, Cherubs and Seraphs (Cherubim, Seraphim) are Angels, occupying the highest angelic orders in Heaven and are thus the closest to God. On the other hand, Putti, arise from Greco-Roman classical mythos (i.e., non-Christian). They are associated with Eros/Cupid as well as with the Muse, Erato; the muse of lyric and love poetry...

"Putti – which comes from the Latin, putus, meaning 'little man' – are...not so much babies as they are 'not human'. They are spiritual beings and thus depicted in their typically odd fashion; as winged little people of indeterminate gender. Using babies as models for Putti (or for Cherubs, either) doesn't quite get across the true concept of 'Putti-ness' as they (babies) are too guileless, for one thing, whereas Putti are clever and purposeful. They are there to help Cupid/Eros facilitate the onset of profane love – or secular, non-religious love, as between two people, rather than the love as between a human and God. Probably, it was artists' attempts to avoid simply painting babies that has led to so many rather odd and, often, ugly, Putti. Sometimes they nailed it, sometimes not.

"By the time the Baroque Era came about, which might arguably have been the high point for Cherubim and Putti, both of these little beings were usually being depicted in the same way. Which one they were, simply depended upon the theme of the painting or sculpture: If religious (sacred) – they were Cherubs. If secular or mythic (profane) – they were Putti.

"In either case, they'd be hard to pull off successfully today because most people are unaware of their roles in semiotics, or in philosophy/mythology/history, or in religion." (Martinez, Juan Carlos. "What's With the Cherubs?" ARChives - Essays and Information on Art by Today's Experts and Professionals. Art Renewal Center, 10/5/2004 [http://www.artrenewal.com/articles/2003/Best_of_ARC/best1.asp?msg=226&forumID=32] )]


Derivation of word

The word "putto" is Italian singular male; the plural is "putti". One never speaks of "putta", which would be the female version. (That word is short for "puttana", which means "slut.")

In early modern Italian, the word simply meant "child"; today it's used only in this specific meaning.

In descriptions of art, some of the first known references to the word are in Vasari ("Lives of the Artists", 1550/68).

Application of word over time

It seems to have developed its application as a specific term in art history only during the modern period.

Visual History

Revival of putto in the Renaissance

Putti are a classical motif found primarily on child sarcophagi of the 2nd century, where they are depicted fighting, dancing, participating in bacchic rites, playing sports, etc.

The revival of the figure of the putto is generally attributed to Donatello, in Florence in the 1420s, although there are some earlier manifestations (for example the tomb of Illaria del Carretta in Lucca).

Where to find putti

Putti, cupids and angels (see below) can be found in both religious and secular art from the 1420s in Italy, the turn of the 16th century in the Netherlands and Germany, the Mannerist period and late Renaissance in France, and all over Baroque ceilings. It would be too long to list all the artists, but the best known are Donatello and Raphael (with Giulio Romano and Giovanni da Udine), and all their followers.

They also experienced a major revival in the 19th century, where they ed over paintings from French academic painters, to Gustave Doré’s illustrations to "Orlando Furioso", to advertisements.

In the twentieth century, they appeared in Walt Disney's "Fantasia".

Iconography of putto

The iconography of putti is deliberately unfixed. It is hard to tell the difference between putti, cupids and angels. They have no specific attributes, but can take on the attributes of numerous other figures. As such, putti can take on lots of meanings.

Some of the more common ones are
*associations with Aphrodite, and so with romantic – or erotic – love
*associations with Heaven
*associations with peace, prosperity, mirth and leisure


The historiography of this subject matter is very short. Many important and famous art historians have commented on the importance of the figure of the putto in art but few have taken up a major study.

The only scholarly book with putti in the title is: Charles Dempsey "Inventing the Renaissance Putto" (University of North Carolina Press, 2001).



ee also

*Sacred-profane dichotomy

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • putto — putto …   Dictionnaire des rimes

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  • putto — PÚTTO s. (ARTE PLAST.) amoraş. Trimis de siveco, 30.11.2006. Sursa: Sinonime  PÚTTO s.n. (Arte) Denumire în sculptura şi pictura italiană pentru motivul plastic al copilului Amor; amoraş. ♦ Denumire dată figurilor de îngeraşi care apar frecvent… …   Dicționar Român

  • putto — plur. putti [ puto, puti ] n. m. • attesté XXe (1644 en angl.); mot it. ♦ Didact. (Arts) Jeune garçon nu représentant l Amour, dans la peinture italienne. ⇒ amour (I). ● putto, putti ou puttos nom masculin ( …   Encyclopédie Universelle

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  • putto — (izg. pȕto) m DEFINICIJA lik. u kiparstvu i slikarstvu, lik nagog ili lako odjevenog dječarca, krilatog ili bez krila; amoret ETIMOLOGIJA tal. ← lat. putus …   Hrvatski jezični portal

  • putto — ► NOUN (pl. putti) ▪ a representation of a naked child, especially a cherub or a cupid in Renaissance art. ORIGIN Italian, boy …   English terms dictionary

  • putto — [po͞o′tō] n. pl. putti [po͞ot′tē] [It < L putus, var. of pusus, boy; akin to puer: see POULTRY] a figure of a plump, young, male angel or cupid, as in baroque art …   English World dictionary

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  • Putto — Pụt|to 〈m.; s, Pụt|ti od. Pụt|ten; Mal., bildende Kunst〉 Kindergestalt, kleine, leicht dickliche Engelsfigur; →a. Amorette [<ital. putto „Knäblein“ <lat. putus „Knabe“] * * * Pụt|to: ↑ Putte. * * * Pụtto   [italienisch »Knäblein«, von… …   Universal-Lexikon