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The Cover
August 5, 1998

Tre Puttini Feriti

JAMA. 1998;280(5):400. doi:10.1001/jama.280.5.400

From earliest times putti (Latin putus, a little man) are common enough figures in the visual arts. Loosely connected to the notions of both angelic spirits and romantic love, and once depicted as winged youths, by the time of the Renaissance they had devolved into little more than chubby infants, sometimes winged, sometimes not, sometimes mischievous with bow and arrow, sometimes purely angelic witnesses to heavenly scenes. What is not common in the visual arts is the depiction of wounded or dead putti such as are shown in Tre Puttini Feriti (cover ) by the 17th-century Bolognese painter Francesco-Giovanni Gessi (1588-1649). Painted sometime around 1620, the work, which is at the first, rapid glance a tranquil innocent scene, becomes a moment later a scene of unsuspected horror. The horror is compounded by the very fact of that first, seeming, innocence and the viewer's unawareness of the facts. So bizarre as to be almost inconceivable, the notion of such violence in a picture of cherubs or cupids or sleeping children is disturbing at a level of the psyche far deeper than can be expressed in words.

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