Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Review of a Concrete Cherub

Meet Reginald, the putto
Well, he's not one. Not if you want to get technical about it.

This silent statue out back on our patio is no "cherub" in the sense of having bonafides that link him to the angels called "cherubim." Which means somewhere along the line someone either got confused or conflated things when they started calling these fellows "cherubs" as if they were winged messengers sent by the Judeo-Christian God.

So let's be precise at this time. What our friend, with his G-rated loin cloth, is is a putto. That's Italian for "little boy" or "child."

Confusing, eh?

I think, despite his stony expression of muted contentment, this knee-high personage I've named Reginald may have a bit of an identity crisis.

Who are you, my lovely concrete, half-winged putto? Where did you come from? Let me help you by sitting down beside you and telling a little story about your kind.

Chubby winged cherubs became popular during the Renaissance and the Baroque period. Donatello carved some on pots and Raphael (neither artist to be confused with his Ninja Turtle namesake) painted lush and arresting versions of these plump cheek creatures.
Raphael's famous Sistine cherubs in Dresden

The inspiration for putti actually came from images on second century child sarcophagi. The decorations, designed presumably to ease the pain of parents saying good-bye to little ones they had lost, showed the putti dancing, fighting, and playing sports.

Ancient child sarcophagus with putti around vine, the latter symbolic of life

Truly, it gives me pause to think that hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of humans over the centuries have felt some connection to the putti. And it goes on. One of them ends up on my patio. Another is on a postage stamp or on an embroidered pillow in an old aunt's house. They're following us?

Perhaps not, but a legacy of human thought, hope and belief certainly shadows all of us. Like dragons, like vampires, some things are too appealing to our imaginations for us to ever abandon them.

Biography of a Winged One
It's worth mentioning how Reginald came into the family. Eight years ago our son was still at the age where everything was a wonder. His mom was scraping raw her fingertips at a computer keyboard as she worked on writing her Master's thesis. It was summer.

With my wife out of town for a few days I undertook to create a surprise for her. Our son thought this was a fine idea and he even helped me name the little patch of earth I worked over. It became The Thesis Garden. The idea was that my wife could sit at her desk, plugging away at her manuscript, but take occasional eye breaks by turning her head and looking out the window at flowers I'd planted outside the office window. In the midst of my nine square foot Eden, I placed the ornament our son and I picked out: Reginald.

The little concrete guy became the heart of The Thesis Garden.

Over the years Reginald toppled once and one of his wings broke off. Once a rare snow storm came along and he was placed in the middle of the back yard because our son thought he looked excellent next to the lop-sided snowman. Most of the time, Reginald has quietly carried out his duties of doing what? I'm not sure what. He reminds me of the statuary we saw all over the city of Rome this summer. The power of those stones is not to be underestimated since through wars and plagues they habitually survive every generation of humans that come along. They may have broken off limbs and cracks in their bodies and the elements treat them with disrespect, but nothing can stop them from keeping their places. I find them reassuring.

And Reginald is the best. I once tried to glue on his wing. After a while it fell off again. I took this as a sign. Reginald is not going to fly away.

Our son is as tall as his mother now; his mom has her Masters and is teaching full-time. We live in a different house and I have no idea if back in the old one the owners still keep up The Thesis Garden. But nothing is ever new with Reginald. He stays the same. Come to think of it, his permanent condition is one of being Van Winkled. But at some point the comparison between Reginald and me falls apart.

For the remainder of this project I may be "asleep" to the bustle and news of this world.  I may be spending more time in simple gazing and quiet observation than ever before. But I don't want to turn to stone and replace all feeling with a concrete, stoic pose. If anything, I perceive a challenge in trying to feel more intensely than ever before, especially when faced with what's right in front of me.

Like Reginald.

Reginald, I don't think I've ever told you. How fond I am of you. How much I appreciate you.

He's a bit beat up, which in the world of images that are supposed to fake an essence of antiquity is a good thing. He also appeals to children and sentimental types and he costs under $25. Pure kitsch? Almost as bad as those concrete lawn trolls? You bet! Subtract a star for that. I'll still give Reginald a ***1/2 - V.W.


  1. The cherubs are not in sistine chapel...they are in germany....

  2. Raphael's putti are on the Sistine Madonna, an oil painting in the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister (Old Masters Picture Gallery) in Dresden, Germany, not in the Sistine Chapel. It's called the Sistine Madonna because Saint Sixtus kneels to the left of Mary.

    Reginald is a fine scion of the nekkid winged babies tradition. Long may his one remaining wing stand.

    1. Thanks for the correction. I fixed my spasm of misinformation. It's helpful that you pointed out how people can confuse their "Sistine"s!