Fountain Figure of a Winged Infant, 1432
Gilt bronze; H. 24 1/4 in. (61.5 cm)
Purchase, Mrs. Samuel Reed Gift, Gifts of Thomas Emery and Mrs. Lionel F. Straus, in memory of her husband, by exchange; and Louis V. Bell Fund, 1983 (1983.356)
This figure of a winged infant originally crowned a fountain in a fifteenth-century garden or courtyard. Within its body, copper piping conducted a jet of water from left foot to mouth, from which the water spouted forth to propel a windmill, or whirligig, held in the figure's right hand. A precedent for the pose is found in a work by Donatello—the most fertile genius in Florentine sculpture of the fifteenth century—namely, his Dancing Angel (1429) on the Baptistery font in Siena. The cast of the figure shown here is heavy, with the arms cast solid in the rudimentary manner typical of Early Renaissance bronzes. A goldsmith must have assisted the sculptor with the elaborate chasing of the wings.
The sculpture has a singularly mysterious combination of attributes. It bears the wings of a cupid, feathered feet such as might be associated with Mercury, and a fleecy tail that suggests a satyr. In a Renaissance garden, fountain figures were often part of an elaborate allegorical program. This winged infant undoubtedly had a particular iconographical significance, but it may only emerge when its original owner and situation are known.