Winged, boyish figures called erotes were a regular feature of Roman funerary art, and provide inspiration for the image of the winged angel.

Erotes are ministers of the dead, and help to transport the souls to the land of the dead or the Christian heaven. They are based on the myth of Psyche (soul), who marries Eros (erotic love). They function as "eros psychophoros," or "escorts of the soul." Sometimes they are called genii (singular "genius," comparable to the Daemon, though the association is not entirely accurate).

Erotes were common on sarcophagi and funerary altars into the early centuries post-Christ. They were portrayed in pairs, either standing or hovering, and carrying one of three items: a gorgoneion, or Minerva's shield with the severed head of the Gorgon, which was believed to be a powerful amulet against evil; an inscribed tablet; or an image of the deceased. Typically they were shown nude, with mantles reaching down to the feet.

Erotes often were depicted along with Victory, another early inspiration for the winged angel. They also were associated with the winged Roman goddess Aeternitas (Eternity), who functioned as a psychopomp to the dead.

source for additional reading/information:

Berefelt, Gunnar. A Study on the Winged Angel: The Origin of a Motif. Stockholm: Almquist & Wiksell, 1968.

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