Chubby Cherubs Hit Their Mark on 1995 Love Stamps

Non-denom singleIn ancient Roman mythology Cupid, the son of Venus, goddess of love, was most often portrayed as a handsome youth. He carried a bow and arrows, which he used to pierce the hearts of his living targets—gods and mortals alike—plunging them headlong into love. Cupid himself was not immune; accidentally nicked by the tip of an arrow, he fell passionately in love with a mortal, Psyche.

Cupid may have been the ancient Roman god of desire, but over time his image has morphed into one of the most enduring symbols of Valentine’s Day: a chubby cherub carrying a tiny bow and quiver of arrows, a motif that dates to the Victorian era. Today that image—ubiquitous on Valentine’s Day cards, boxes of candy, and decorations—is familiar to modern eyes as the embodiment of Cupid.

Because of the association with the image of Cupid, cherubs seemed like a good choice for the 1995 Love stamps. Both stamps issued that year feature a winged child taken from Sistine Madonna (c. 1513–1514), a painting by Renaissance artist Raphael.

Love30_sglG_4xRGB [Converted]The images are not new to reproduction, having been depicted on everything from greeting cards to sweatshirts. They were even featured on Costa Rica’s 1984 Christmas stamp.

The decision to use the figures from Raphael’s work caused some controversy, however. During initial discussion about the stamp design, it was noted that the cherubs were putti, or child angels, whose appearance related to death rather than love. Nevertheless, the consensus was that by isolating the children from the original painting, they became beautiful cherubs, described in press materials for the stamps as “cupids.”

Reports in Linn’s Stamp News and follow-up letters to the Washington Post stirred the controversy. Were they putti—little angels of death—or cupids? Some people agreed that separating the images from the source painting created a new context; others still debated the appropriateness of the images on a Love stamp. But in the end the stamp-buying public had the last word—millions of the stamps sold!

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About USPS Stamps

The Postal Service™ is proud of its role in portraying the American experience to a world audience through the issuance of postage stamps and postal stationery. Each year the Postal Service issues commemorative stamps reflecting subjects of national significance and appeal. More than 160 years of stamp development has yielded an incredible archive of imagery and commentary reflecting American culture and society. Even in this fast-changing world, stamps are still a versatile and convenient method of postage. And stamp collecting is a lifetime hobby that is fun and educational for all ages. Stamp collecting is easy to start without a big investment. It is also a great way to learn about the world and its many wonders, opening the door to an exciting universe of history, science, geography, the arts, technology, and sports. Our mission is to provide universal service that is prompt, reliable, efficient, affordable, and self-sustaining. Throughout its history the Postal Service has grown with the nation, binding it together by ensuring that everyone, everywhere, has the same ability to communicate regardless of technological change.