The Differences Between Cherubs, Cupids, and Other Angels in Art

How Chubby Baby Angels Differ from Biblical Cherub Angels

The fresco 'The Triumph of Galatea' by Raphael, painted 1512-1514. Getty Images

Cute baby angels with chubby cheeks and little wings who use bows and arrows to cause people to fall in love may be romantic, but they are no way related to Biblical angels. Known as either cherubs or cupids, these characters are popular in art (especially around Valentine's Day). These cute little "angels" are actually nothing like the Biblical angels with the same name: cherubim. Just as falling in love can be confusing, so is the history of how cherubs and cupids came to be confused with Biblical angels.

Cupid Represents Love in Ancient Mythology

It is pretty clear where the association with love comes from. For that, you can turn to ancient Roman mythology. Cupid is the god of love in ancient Roman mythology (same as Eros in Greek mythology). Cupid was the son of Venus, the Roman goddess of love, and was often depicted in art as a young man with a bow, ready to shoot arrows at people to cause them to fall in love with others. Cupid was mischievous and took pleasure in playing tricks on people to toy with their emotions.

Renaissance Art Influences Change in Cupid's Appearance

During the Renaissance, artists began to expand the ways they illustrated all sorts of subjects, including love. The famous Italian painter Raphael and other artists of that era created characters called "putti," which looked like male babies or toddlers. These characters represented the presence of pure love around people and often sported wings like angels. The word "putti" came from the Latin word, putus, meaning "boy."

Cupid's appearance in art changed around this same time so that instead of being portrayed as a young man, he was depicted as a baby or young child, like the putti. Soon artists began illustrating Cupid with angelic wings as well.

Meaning of the Word "Cherub" Expands

Meanwhile, people began referring to the images of putti and Cupid as "cherubs" because of their association with the glorious feeling of being in love. The Bible states that cherubim angels protect God's heavenly glory. It was not a far leap for people to make an association between God's glory and God's pure love. And, surely, baby angels must be the essence of purity. So, at this point, the word "cherub" began to refer not just to a biblical angel of the cherubim rank, but also to an image of either Cupid or putti in art.

The Differences Couldn't Be Greater

The irony is that the cherubs of popular art and the cherubs of religious texts like the Bible couldn't be more different creatures.

For starters, their appearances are completely different. While the cherubs and cupids of popular art look like chubby little babies, biblical cherubim show up as fiercely strong, exotic creatures with multiple faces, wings, and eyes. Cherubs and cupids are often depicted as floating on clouds, but cherubim in the Bible appear surrounded by the fiery light of God's glory (Ezekiel 10:4).

There is also a sharp contrast between how serious their activities are. Little cherubs and cupids simply have fun playing tricks and making people feel warm and fuzzy with their cute and playful antics. But cherubim are masters of tough love. They are charged to do God's will whether people like it or not. While cherubs and cupids are not bothered by sin, cherubim are seriously committed to seeing people grow closer to God by turning away from sin and accessing God's mercy to move forward.

Artistic depictions of cherubs and cupids can be lots of fun, but they lack any real power. On the other hand, cherubim are told to have awesome power at their disposal, and they may use it in ways that challenge humans.

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Your Citation
Hopler, Whitney. "The Differences Between Cherubs, Cupids, and Other Angels in Art." Learn Religions, Sep. 4, 2021, Hopler, Whitney. (2021, September 4). The Differences Between Cherubs, Cupids, and Other Angels in Art. Retrieved from Hopler, Whitney. "The Differences Between Cherubs, Cupids, and Other Angels in Art." Learn Religions. (accessed June 2, 2023).