Sweet Child O’ Mine – Roman Putti Figurines

Late last year I tweeted a Roman putto (child) figurine that was brought in for recording.

The statue is in the form of a chubby and naked winged boy, a putto, seated with his arm outstretched and bent at the elbows. His right hand is broken and his left arm is holding a ball.

Copyright: The Portable Antiquities Scheme, License: CC-BY 2.0BERK-3D408B 

The boy’s left leg is bent at the knee and slightly raised, projecting forward, while the right leg is slightly bent and the two feet are posed together. His hips are tilted slightly upwards to the right. His bottom is curved with a perforation in one cheek perhaps for attachment to a pedestal.

Martin Henig says that there are many representations of putti playing (or struggling) with animals, the most famous of which is probably the 3rd century BC Hellenistic ‘Boy with Goose’ sculpture. This type of art is termed ‘genre art’ as it represents an aspect of everyday life, in this case children playing, most often, with animals. 

A database search brings up multiple child/putto figurines and a few are from Berkshire. In fact, another putto figurine was found not far from this one near White Waltham. 

Copyright: The Portable Antiquities Scheme, License: CC-BY 2.0SUR-CE0231 

This time the child is in a running pose with the right arm raised. The right leg is kicked back and the hair is held in a small bun at the neck and the details of the hair are engraved. 

The closeness of the finds might suggest some ritual/votive activity in the area. However, it is likely that these figurines were used as lares (household gods) in a family shrine rather than a temple.

A further putto from Berkshire was found near Chieveley. This time the figurine is seated with his arms around the neck of a goose. The boy’s left leg is bent at the knee back towards his buttocks while the right leg is bent around and in front of the left knee. He sits on a round disc that acts as the base of the statue. The goose is cradled above the boy’s left leg and he holds its beak under his chin; his arms grasp the goose’s neck, right hand above left, in a pose that initially looks like he is about the wring the goose’s neck. The boy wears a Corinthian cap and a line of curls can be seen protruding from beneath; the style shows that the statue is of Romano-British manufacture and not imported. Two small wings, now worn and incomplete, protrude from his back below the shoulders. 

Copyright: The Portable Antiquities Scheme, License: CC-BY 2.0BERK-B60E47 

Not all putto have wings and represent Cupid. This association is a later Medieval one.

Another putto, but this time from Lincolnshire is in almost the exact pose as the first one from Berkshire. The only difference between the two is that the ball is in the opposite hand.

Copyright: The Portable Antiquities Scheme, License: CC-BY 2.0LIN-A7D5D9 

This also shows that putto/Cupid figurines are not localised in the south-east but can appear anywhere. Searching on the database shows that they appear in multiple regions and there are a number of Cupids from northern Britain. They usually appear as playful in some way and in a variety of poses…..perhaps even dancing.

Copyright: The Portable Antiquities Scheme, License: CC-BY 2.0DENO-B2BE10