Many years ago, my mother was at an antique market or similar venue, where she overheard some people talking about a piece of statuery there. Specifically, it represented a little girl with angel wings. My mother reported to have one of the people ask the other: “How did she die?” - implying that it represented a specific child - perhaps even one known to the other person(!?)
Was this some kind of custom or genre (like in the days when child mortality was higher) to have custom-made representations of one deceased children in the guise of angels?
Don’t know about statues, but there used to be a practice of taking a family picture with a recently deceased family member, especially if a child died young. I’ve seen several of these online and they are creepy-- the child is often propped up to appear sitting or even standing, and sometimes they even painted false eyes on the closed eyelids.
I can easily imagine some people purchasing an angel statue as a representation of the deceased child as an alternate remembrance-- it certainly seems much less morbid than taking a picture of the deceased.
There are tons of gravestones that have statues of various kinds, including some that are supposed to represent the deceased. Some of the best fine grained pale blue granite was mined and carved here in Rhode Island and many of our cemeteries are adorned with statues. However, most of the smaller statues appear to be generic angels. For a young enough child I think it would be difficult to tell.
There’s a place in Sicily where the deceased were dressed in their Sunday best and mummified and then hung up in the church crypt. In one spot, the documentary showed a young girl up on the wall, and then some very old lady mentioned she remembered playing with her when the two were young girls (and alive).
I have a friend who lost her only daughter as a stillbirth, about 20 years ago. She memorialised this every year on her daughter’s birthday with a small statuette of a girl of the age her daughter would have been that year. The last I actually saw her post on FB about this (she lives overseas so I don’t see her in person) was on the twelfth anniversary - she may or may not have kept up the practise after that.
Nothing a family does these days to process the death of a child is going to be incredibly common … because only a minority of people lose young children. But making stautes is the kind of thing people do, even when there’s not a cultural exemplar to tell them “this is what you do”. And representing dead children as angels with wings is incredibly common - people certainly do that all the time today.
The most striking thing about this story is the fact that one of the people asked “How did she die?”, implying that the identity of the child was known. Of course, this is all hearsay and happened long ago; who knows whether my mother retained the whole context of what transpired in that conversation.