Sunday, January 27, 2008

Bronze Meddle

The Strange Truth About The Shiny Cherubs

Photographs copyright: DAVID McMAHON


The photograph of this bronze cherub is a follow-up to my post yesterday, Victoria Across, a photo feature about the Victoria Memorial in Calcutta. Take a close look at the photo (above) of a bronze cherub in the grounds of the museum and tourist attraction. Notice anything strange about the shot?

Yes, you're right. The area around the cheeks of the cherub are shiny, but the rest of the face is dull and the bronze has turned black with age and exposure. Strange, isn't it? It's not just one cherub. There are quite a few of them in one area, and each cherub shows exactly the same symptoms.


I was about ten years old when I first spotted this strange fact. It was during a school excursion and I was completely intrigued by the sight. What on earth would cause a certain portion of the bronze to remain shiny while the rest of the cherub was in stark contrast? There had to be a very specific explanation. Well, read on ....


I watched the cherubs very carefully for the next half an hour or so. Then I saw a group of adult tourists approaching. I watched as they began to admire the cherubs. And then the answer became patently clear to me as I watched what they did next.


Allow me to digress for a second. Children are very special in Indian culture and when grown-ups greet a child, a very common and acceptable gesture is for the adult to reach out with thumb and fingers spread and caress the cheeks of the child. The adult's thumb caresses the right cheek, while the fingers are spread across the left cheek.

Yep, that's what I saw all those years ago. The group admired the beauty of the cherubs and one by one they stretched out their hands to - you guessed it - lovingly and tenderly rub the cheeks of each cherub.

So the next time you visit the Victoria Memorial, you'll know exactly what causes this phenomenon. It's so cheeky, but so true.

27 comments:

Lee said...

Lovely story, David! How nice to know a bit more about your boyhood. And that bit of cultural custom makes it so special.

Is this custom practiced by all adults towards children regardless of their relationship to the child? In America kids get lots of hugs, but you have to know the child through some relationship like teacher, family friend or relative.

Looks like you had an awesome day of photo taking when you were at the Victoria Memorial.

Joy!

whodatdare said...

What is also happening is that by rubbing the cheeks of the cherubs the people are preventing oxidation from happening to that part of the metal. Oxidation is what causes rust in stell for example, and it causes dis-coloring in bronze. The Statue of Liberty's color is a classic example of this.

whodatdare said...

I really need to proof read my posts more. The comment should say steel rather than stell

whodatdare said...

And happy belated Australia Day, David and all the Aussies who read this blog.

imac said...

Like this post - nice n interesting and great shots. so are the last 3 posts to.
Playing catch up time been busy for a while.

Patty said...

What a fascinating story. I love photos and statues of cherubs and angels. Thanks for sharing your story. Makes sense.

Fletch said...

Good one!

You are now also the leading authority on "Shiny Bronze Cherub Faces".

Why? Take a look at this image I've saved to my server.

Maria said...

I would never have even thought of that - I would have figured the sculptors did it purposefully for some odd reason.

Love this post.

Sarge Charlie said...

excellent photos presented very well

Lana Gramlich said...

What a wonderful story. :)

BRUNO said...

Well, I'll be damned! That's the last thing I'd have thought of!

If somebody was to do that in THIS country, it'd probably mean they were getting ready to STEAL it, and sell it for "scrap-cash"!

We're beginning to NOT appreciate the finer things in life more each day here, especially in our more "modern-day" cities and suburbs. However, I imagine it's much the same everywhere else, too.

Guess I had better start shining-up a few of our Lincoln-head pennies in this country---they're on the way out, too, in the name of a more "correct" version...

Zathyn Priest said...

A lovely custom to greet children and beautiful way for it to be reflected in the cherubs.

Cuckoo said...

:)))))))))))))))))))))
The moment I read your question or even before that I knew the answer.

Yes, we Indians show our affection by touching/pulling the cheeks of kids.. more than giving a hug.

Someone here asked if we do it regardless of the relationship. Yes, we do it for ALL the kids even if we find someone cute in the shopping mall. It has become a part of our culture.

Not to mention it is directly proportionate to the chubbiness of the kid.

I'll write about it sometime what I felt when I was a kid.

Jeff B said...

Another brilliant example of your attention to detail.

eve's lungs said...

lovely pictures of the cherubs. Victoria Memorial is a favourite haunt. I especially love the cluster of sculptures in front of VM I think I must have taken about a hundred pictures of them!

Merisi said...

Somehow, I didn't expect to see angels in India. Interesting how differently children are being caressed here: Adults tend to pat them on the left cheek with all four fingers of their right hand.

alicesg said...

Nice story and nice buildings. We learn new things everyday through blogs too.

Melissa said...

What a great story David! It makes sense then why the cherubs look that way. Beautiful photos too.

backpakker said...

thats a great story..simple gestures can have such effect !!

Nessa said...

Ah, David, another magical mystery crushed by reality, even though the explanation is a sweet one.

pat houseworth said...

I knew when I started reading that their had to be a "natural" explanation...but I never expected that...great story and excellent photos.

Amrita said...

Very observant David. its true about our culture, we reach out to pat a child 's cheek most of the time.

Akelamalu said...

What a lovely story David and I think the cherubs look prettier with shiny cheeks!

Misty Dawn said...

What a fabulous story! I learned something and it warmed my heart too! Thanks for sharing this David.

Sandy Kessler said...

rosy I mean golden glow in those cheeks- compelling

Jo Beaufoix said...

Fab story David. And they do look very tactile, they look so smooth and cool and shiny.

Bubba's Sis said...

How very interesting - and beautiful!!