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Guercino, The Samian Sibyl with a Putto

Key facts
Full title The Samian Sibyl with a Putto
Artist Guercino
Artist dates 1591 - 1666
Date made 1651
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 218.5 × 180 cm
Acquisition credit Accepted by HM Government in lieu of Inheritance Tax and allocated to the National Gallery, 2012
Inventory number NG6618
Location On loan: Guercino at Waddesdon, Waddesdon Manor (Rothschild Foundation), Aylesbury, UK
Collection Main Collection
The Samian Sibyl with a Putto

The Samian Sibyl was one of 12 pagan sibyls (or priestesses) who, like the Old Testament prophets, were said to have foretold the coming of Christ. The Samian Sibyl, named after the Greek island of Samos, was an oracle of Apollo and prophesied that Christ would be born to a virgin mother, as the inscription on her scroll indicates.

Sibyls were popular in Italian art and were commonly shown with books or scrolls, alluding to the Sybilline Books in which their prophecies were recorded. Here the Samian Sibyl rests her elbow on one book while reading from another, and a large tome sits on the table in front of her, open at a page with elegant script. This painting was made in 1651 for Gioseffo Locatelli of Cesena. Guercino also made The Cumaean Sibyl with a Putto for Locatelli (also in the National Gallery collection) but was convinced by Prince Mattias de' Medici to sell it to him instead, so The Samian Sibyl was produced as its replacement.

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