In Italian Renaissance art, putti are famous for stealing adoring glances at the Virgin Mary in Raphael's Sistine Madonna. However, putti were also quite popular with artists during many other artistic periods. These childish cherubs frolic in the romantic Rococo paintings of François Boucher, for example, and additionally adorn a myriad of other magnificent pieces throughout the history of art.
Since these winged creatures are found in many works of art - both fine and decorative - they naturally acquired a mythology of sorts. For putti are used to allude to the presence of love, or even used to represent love itself. They are derived from artistic depictions of Eros (who was known to the Romans as Cupid), the Greek god of love and desire. Indeed, one famous representation of Eros is the Hellenistic work of sculpture known as the Sleeping Eros. So the next time you see an angelic little creature smiling from one of your favorite works of art, you can be sure that love is in the air.
Learn more about the role the god Eros played in Greek mythology at Mythography.
From Abacus to Zeus
Another useful reference book for information about art terms and techniques. It is described as an "illustrated glossary and iconographical guide [that] presents a wealth of information bearing on the history of the visual arts."