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Guercino, 'The Cumaean Sibyl with a Putto', 1651

Key facts
Full title The Cumaean Sibyl with a Putto
Artist Guercino
Artist dates 1591 - 1666
Date made 1651
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 222 × 168.5 cm
Acquisition credit Bought, 2011
Inventory number NG6615
Location On loan: Guercino at Waddesdon, Waddesdon Manor (Rothschild Foundation), Aylesbury, UK
Collection Main Collection
The Cumaean Sibyl with a Putto

The Cumaean Sibyl is one of 12 pagan sibyls, or prophetesses, said to have foretold the coming of Christ. The Cumaean Sibyl, who takes her name from Cumae near Naples, predicted that Christ would be born to a virgin mother in a stable at Bethlehem. The inscription on the stone slab here refers to the wooden cross on which Christ was crucified.

This is one of Guercino’s finest late works, imposing in composition, rich in colour and dignified in pose and gesture. The painting was commissioned in 1651 by Gioseffo Locatelli of Cesena as a companion to Guercino’s King David, now in a private collection. Before it could be sent to Locatelli, it was seen in Guercino’s studio by Prince Mattias de' Medici, who convinced the artist to sell it to him instead. Guercino painted The Samian Sibyl with a Putto, also in the National Gallery’s collection, for the original patron as a replacement.

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