Naughty Putti

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Sometimes winged, but always chubby, depictions of putti have decorated paintings, objects and architecture since antiquity. During the Renaissance, putti personified human spirit and emotion, while later in the Baroque period these naked male babies came to represent the omnipresence of God and were often used in context with angels. By the 18th and 19th centuries, the popularisation of romantic images turned putti into a popular emblem of love. However, putti are neither cupids nor angels; they are secular figures, which allows them to get into quite a bit of mischief. Here we take a look at the seemingly incongruous and inappropriate activities for their age group – these putti can be found getting drunk, brawling and engaging in erotic behavior. —Alessandra Merrill

Naughty Putti

  • Detail from a Russian silver wine cistern and stand, Sazikov after a design by August Karl Spies, St. Petersburg, circa 1890. Sold for $377,000.
    Some very drunk putti are found revelling with wild abandon on this Russian wine cistern. As part of the entourage of Dionysus, god of the grape harvest, winemaking and abundance, Bacchanal putti are usually depicted playing instruments, dancing and, of course, drinking in excess.



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  • Detail of an Austrian silver and enamel clock, Hermann Ratzersdorfer, Vienna, circa 1880. Estimate $10,000–15,000.
    While putti can be used to introduce a sensual note into discrete scenes of seduction, this clock features overt scenes of seduction and some very voyeuristic putti. Here putti are conflated with cupids, enabling the lust.



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  • Cover and interior of an 18th-century wood box.
    The cover of this wooden box features a classical allegory of painting, but the interior holds a shocking surprise. One very naughty putto rides a beast composed of phalluses. With no subtlety spared in the painting of this erotic scene, it was wisely hidden inside a box with an unsuspecting cover.



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  • Detail from the Grape Harvest tapestry, Mortlake Tapestry Works after designs by Giulio Romano, mid-17th century.
    Not all putti take the grape harvest seriously. While most are hard at work, a few are engaged in some questionable playtime. This design is one in a series of tapestries called the “Bacchanals,” alternatively known as “ye Naked Boyes.” We’ll leave it there.

  • Detail of engraving from a George II silver salver, Phillips Garden, London, 1754. Estimate $15,000–25,000.
    This salver contains an erotic scene hidden within the elaborate cartouche. A possible explanation is that the putti are playing a game of cache-cache, or hide-and-seek, but it’s hard not to sexualize one putto’s face buried in the other's lap when they’re both just so naked. We wonder if the engraver was fully aware of the innuendo of this scene.



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