A Wonderful Pair of 19thC Cast Iron Relief Garden Ornaments in the Form of Winged Putto Sea-Creatures

Origin: English
Period: Mid/Late Victorian
Provenance: Unknown
Date: c.1850-1880
Width: 19 inches
Depth: 17 inches
Height: 25 inches
Weight: 31.5 KGS (all each, approximate and at extremities)

The beautifully cast and patinated garden ornaments, in the form of naked winged putto with hands held aloft each lower half morphing to fantastical scrolling sea creatures, standing on circular plinth bases, survive from the second half of the nineteenth century and most likely from the third quarter.

Showing weathering commensurate with age, having been placed outside, the ornaments are in good structural order showing no signs of damage or repair work. There are one or two very faint hairline cracks, which are nearly invisible and haven’t weakened the pieces. The colour and even wear is extremely desirable to each. The pieces are hollow. There are no repairs or signs of any restoration to note and thus they remain in desirable original condition, completely untouched since their conception.

The forms that these figures take suggest that they could have been part of a larger composition, for instance originally conceived as part of a fountain group or, due to their arms being aloft, supports or bases for a large table-top. The use of sea creature legs would point to a nautical theme and therefore an aquatic one, and they may have once been part submerged in a shallow lake so that they appear to be rising from the depth of the mighty deep, with their sea-creature legs just showing. They could be perhaps used as table bases with careful planning but we feel they serve beautifully well as ornaments and would be wonderfully well placed either side of a doorway or fireplace, for instance, or outside, either side of a staircase or of course as part an aquatic centrepiece. There are no marks to the palms of the hands to suggest anything has been resting nor affixed to them at any stage.

These ornaments derive from the popular Roman theme of Putti riding sea creatures. Raphael might have been inspired by scenes of putti riding sea creatures like the ones that appear frequently in cameos and that were well known in Raphael’s circle. The thick locks and the shy smile on these examples is also typical of Raphael’s work.

In both ancient and later art, Cupid is often shown riding a dolphin or sea creature. Cupid with a dolphin recurs as a playful motif, as in garden statuary at Pompeii that shows a dolphin rescuing Cupid from an octopus, or Cupid holding a dolphin. The dolphin, often elaborated fantastically, might be constructed as a spout for a fountain, or here as the bases for the cherubs themselves. Dolphins were often portrayed in antiquity as friendly to humans, and the dolphin itself could represent affection. Pliny records a tale of a dolphin at Puteoli carrying a boy on its back across a lake to go to school each day; when the boy died, the dolphin grieved itself to death. In erotic scenes from mythology, Cupid riding the dolphin may convey how swiftly love moves or the Cupid astride a sea beast may be a reassuring presence for the wild ride of love. A dolphin-riding Cupid may attend scenes depicting the wedding of Neptune and Amphitrite or the Triumph of Neptune, also known as a marine thiasos.

Simply stunning decorators pieces that would have been commissioned for only one of the most prominent English country houses of its time.