Plump, naked, and adorable, amorini are those androgynous winged babies that tumble and flutter through Renaissance, Baroque, and Rococo art. You may have also heard the related term putti. Both terms are Latin diminutives; amorini for love and putti for “putus,” meaning “boy child.” Amorini are typically depicted as angelic cherubs in religious scenes or frolicking cupids in mythological narratives. In both cases, their presence, whether divine or earthly, always symbolizes love and joy.
However young these playful, ever-curious and fetching flying bambini appear, they’re quite old . . . going back to classical antiquity, when they were winged messengers of the Greek gods known as “erotes,” members of Aphrodite’s train, who conveyed various forms of love to humans. They were recast as child-angels in early Christian imagery but fell out of favor during the dour and dreary Middle Ages.
Then came their rediscovery, along with a cornucopia of other classical images, during the Renaissance when masters like Donatello and Raphael breathed new life into them, creating a new generation as bacchanalian as their ancestors. Ever popular and ubiquitous today, especially around Valentines’ Day, amorini bring delight and enchantment to whatever tableaux they join.
Sicily and its Aeolian Islands are places of magic where myths and legends were born. The Greek gods made these lands their playground and demonstrated a penchant for “Sicilian real estate,” especially the stunningly beautiful Aeolian Islands, which served as the backdrop to some of the classic stories of antiquity.
On his epic ten-year voyage home from the Trojan War, Odysseus made the treacherous passage through the clutches of Scylla, a man-eating monster that lived in a cliff-side cave across from the mighty whirlpool of Charybdis (thought to be the Straits of Messina.) Then Odysseus journeyed on to the Aeolian Islands to pay his respects to Aeolus, the god of the winds, who resided in a castle on the island of Lipari, the largest of the fertile cluster of seven volcanic islands. The fearsome god Hephaestos, who represents blacksmiths, artisans, metallurgy and fire, lived on the fire-belching island of Vulcano where he forged the arms that protected the gods and heroes of the Trojan War.
While more and more Americans discover the many allures of La Bella Sicila, few have yet to venture to the largely undiscovered Aeolian Islands. As you dream of vacations to come, consider basing a stay on Lipari from which you can explore any of the Aeolian islands including the island of Stromboli which, after Hawaii’s Kilauea, is the world’s most active volcano.
Most of the photographs featured were taken from Lipari with several from Vulcano, Salina and Filicidi.
The tradition of nativity scenes began with Saint Francis of Assisi who staged the first nativity in 1223 with people and live ox and lamb. Overtime this evolved to life-sized wooden figures placed in front of churches and then, into scenes made of small expressive terracotta figurines.
During the 1700s, crèche figures were an obsession in Naples. Wealthy families competed to create the most impressive ones. When Don Carlos of Bourbon (the future Charles III of Spain) ruled Naples and Sicily from 1734-1769, he reputedly owned a crèche with nearly 6,000 figures. Neapolitan crèches were often given as presents to royalty all over Europe so such figurines can appear on the antique market even today.
The 18th century crèche of the Metropolitan Museum of Art is the finest in the US and features over 200 figurines made by the Neapolitan artisan Giuseppe Sammartino and his pupils. All the figurines have finely painted terracotta heads; legs, arms, and wings carved from wood; and bodies of hemp and wire. No two are alike. The graceful angels decorating the tree all have different faces and clothing and carry different objects. The Nativity scene surrounding the majestic twenty-foot blue spruce features the three main elements characteristic of 18th-century Naples: adoring shepherds and their flocks, the Three Kings in procession, and colorful peasants and townspeople engaged in quotidian tasks. In the background are dozens of animals and architectural pieces including quaint houses, market stalls, Roman ruins, and even a typical Italian fountain.
The Neapolitan Crèche and Baroque Angel Tree located in the Met’s Medieval Courtyard are on display through the Feast of the Epiphany, January 6th (the 12th day of Christmas) marking the arrival of the Three Wise Man bringing their finest gifts for the new born King.