Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Twelve Sibyls

Joachim Wichmann
Six Sibyls - Persian, Libyan, Delphic, Cimmerian, Erythraean, Samian
ca. 1648-86
British Museum

Joachim Wichmann
Six Sibyls - Cumaean, Hellespontine, Phrygian, Tiburtine, European, Agrippine
ca. 1648-86
British Museum

Of the named Sibyls active in antiquity, the largest group so-far located in one place consists of the etchings above – representing a dozen different ones – printed from two plates on two sheets in the middle of the seventeenth century and preserved today at the British Museum. Unlike Muses, Sibyls never worked in groups and were only rarely portrayed in groups. If shown in any company at all, they would typically be involved with noble supplicants or high divinities, not one another. The Cumaean Sibyl and the Delphic Sibyl were the most famous in the ancient world. That fact assured those two a corresponding prominence in the Renaissance and its after-ages. A sampling of these early-modern manifestations appears below, focusing on the figure of the Cumaean Sibyl.

Agostino Veneziano
Cumaean Sibyl in a landscape
British Museum

Girolamo di Benvenuto
Cumaean Sibyl
 before 1524
British Museum

Adamo Scultori after Michelangelo
Cumaean Sibyl from the Sistine Ceiling
before 1585
Teylers Museum, Haarlem

Raffaello Schiaminossi
Cumaean Sibyl
British Museum

Cumaean Sibyl
oil on canvas
Galleria Borghese, Rome

François Perrier
Aeneas consulting the Cumaean Sibyl
oil on canvas
National Museum, Warsaw

"The nature of Sibylline inspiration is diversely reported.  Virgil offers a famous description of the Cumaean Sibyl uttering ecstatic prophecy under the inspiration of Apollo, but texts from Erythrae or recorded in various ways by Phlegon of Tralles, Plutarch and Pausanias clearly state that the Sibyl spoke under her own inspiration.   . . .  Widespread interest in Sibyls throughout the Mediterranean world probably stems from the connection between the Sibyl and Rome that dates to, at the very latest, the early 5th century BC.  . . .  The Sibyl's intimate connection with Rome made her a natural choice for Christians who sought evidence from pagan sources for the truth of their beliefs.  . . .  Belief that Virgil's Fourth Eclogue (modeled on sibylline prophecy) was in fact inspired by the Cumaean Sibyl combined with this interest to elevate the Sibyl to a position of remarkable importance in Christian literature and art."

– from The Oxford Classical Dictionary, 3rd edition, edited by Simon Hornblower and Antony Spawforth

Claude Lorrain
Coast view with Apollo and the Cumaean Sibyl
ca. 1645-49
oil on canvas
Hermitage, Saint Petersburg

Salvator Rosa
River Landscape with Apollo and the Cumaean Sibyl
ca. 1655
oil on canvas
Wallace Collection, London

Salvator Rosa
Apollo and the Cumaean Sibyl
ca. 1660-65
British Museum

Cumaean Sibyl and Winged Genius
oil on canvas
National Gallery, London

Claude Lorrain
Aenaes and the Cumaean Sibyl
drawing on blue paper
British Museum

Joseph Mallord William Turner
Lake Avernus with Aeneas and the Cumaean Sibyl
ca. 1814-15
oil on canvas
Yale Center for British Art

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Dying or Dead Adonis and Mourning Venus

Giovanni da Castelbolognese
Venus and dying Adonis
ca. 1540-45
rock-crystal intaglio
Hermitage, Saint Petersburg

Pair of Altars with relief-scenes of the death of Adonis
ca. 400-375 BC
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York


I mourn Adonis dead – loveliest Adonis –
Dead, dead Adonis – and the Loves lament.
Sleep no more, Venus, wrapped in purple woof –
Wake violet-stoled queen, and weave the crown
Of death, – 'tis Misery calls, – for he is dead.

    The lovely one lies wounded in the mountains,
His white thigh struck with the white tooth; he scarce
Yet breathes; and Venus hangs in agony there,
The dark blood wanders o'er his snowy limbs,
His eyes beneath their lids are lustreless,
The rose has fled from his wan lips, and there
That kiss is dead, which Venus gathers yet.

    A deep, deep wound Adonis . . .
A deeper Venus bears upon her heart.
See, his beloved dogs are gathering round –
The Oread nymphs are weeping – Aphrodite
With hair unbound is wandering through the woods,
'wildered, ungirt, unsandalled – the thorns pierce
Her hastening feet and drink her sacred blood.
Bitterly screaming out, she is driven on
Through the long vales; and her Assyrian boy,
Her love, her husband, calls – the purple blood
From his struck thigh stains her white navel now,
Her bosom, and her neck before like snow.

– written in Greek by Bion (1st century BC), translated by Percy Bysshe Shelley (ca. 1822)

Cornelis van Haarlem
Venus and Adonis
oil on canvas
Baltimore Art Museum

Paolo Veronese
Venus and Adonis
ca. 1580
oil on canvas
Prado, Madrid

Annibale Carracci
Venus, Adonis and Cupid
ca. 1590
oil on canvas
Prado, Madrid

workshop of Simon Vouet
Venus and Adonis
ca. 1638
oil on canvas
Hermitage, Saint Petersburg

Giuseppe Mazzuola
Death of Adonis
ca. 1680-1709
Hermitage, Saint Petersburg


I mourn for Adonis – Adonis is dead.
    Weep no more in the woods, Cytherea, thy lover!
So, well! make a place for his corse in thy bed,
    With the purples thou sleepest in, under and over.
He's fair though a corse – a fair corse . . . like a sleeper –
    Lay him soft in the silks he had pleasure to fold,
When, beside thee at night, holy dreams deep and deeper
    Enclosed his young life on the couch made of gold!
Love him still, poor Adonis! cast on him together
    The crowns and the flowers! since he died from the place,
Why let all die with him – let the blossoms go wither;
    Rain myrtles and olive-buds down on his face!
Rain the myrrh down, let all that is best fall a-pining,
    Since the myrrh of his life from thy keeping is swept! –
– Pale he lay, thine Adonis, in purples reclining –

– written in Greek by Bion (1st century BC), translated by Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1853)

Venus and Adonis
ca. 1600-1610
oil on copper
private collection

Luca Cambiaso
Venus and Adonis
before 1585
oil on canvas
Hermitage, Saint Petersburg

Maerten de Vos
Venus and Adonis
before 1603
oil on panel
private collection

Nicolas Poussin
Venus weeping over Adonis
oil on canvas
Musée des Beaux-Arts, Caen

Peter Paul Rubens
Death of Adonis
ca. 1614
oil on canvas
Israel Museum, Jerusalem

Giovanni Antonio Pellegrini
Venus weeping over body of Adonis
ca. 1704
Villa Alessandri, Mira

Hendrik Goltzius
Dying Adonis
oil on canvas
Rijksmuseum. Amsterdam


Deep in his Thigh, deep went the killing smart,
But deeper far it goes in Venus heart:
His faithful Dogs about the Mountain yell,
And the hard fate of their dead Master tell:
The troubled Nymphs alike in doleful strains
Proclaim his death through all the Fields and Plains:
But the sad Goddess, most of all forlorn,
With love distracted, and with sorrow torn,
Wild in her look, and rueful in her air,
With garments rent, and with dishevel'd hair,
Through Brakes, through Thickets, and through pathless ways,
Through Woods, through Haunts, and Dens of Savages,
Undrest, unshod, careless of Honor, Fame,
And Danger, flies, and calls on his lov'd name.
Rude Brambles, as she goes, her body tear,
And her cut feet with blood the stones besmear.
She thoughtless of the unfelt smart flies on,
And fills the Woods and Vallies with her moan,
Loudly does on the Stars and Fates complain,
And prays them give Adonis back again:
But he, alas; the wretched Youth, alas!
Lies cold, and stiff, extended on the grass:
There lies he steep'd in gore, there lies he drown'd
In purple streams that gush from his own wound.

– written in Greek by Bion (1st century BC), translated by John Oldham (1681)

Monday, August 14, 2017

Allies and Adversaries of Ulysses

Giovanni Pichler
before 1791
onyx cameo, carved in Rome
British Museum


    Came in the singer, whom the muses kind
Had taught to sing divinely; but, could not
    Or would not him preserve from being blind.
Pontonous the squire then led him in,
    And set him by a pillar in the hall,
And hung his fiddle o'er him on a pin,
    And how to reach it showed him withal:
Sets him a table and a basket by, 
    And a great bowl of wine before him plac'd,
To drink as often as he should be dry.
    And when their thirst and hunger was displac'd,
The singer sung the song in most request,
    How once Ulysses and Achilles great
In high and bitter language did contest,
    When at a sacred feast they sat at meat;
And how king Agamemnon pleased was,
    To see the two best of the Greeks fall out.
For Phoebus told him so 'twould come to pass,
    When he at Pythos asked him about
The issue of the fleet design'd for Troy.
    This song Demodocus sung to them then;
Which to Ulysses was of little joy;
    But he his tears to hide before those men,
Before his eyes his cloak of purple drew,
    And when the singer ceas'd, his eyes he dried,
And from before his face his cloak withdrew,
    And of the wine perform'd the sacrifice.

– from the Odyssey of Homer, translated by Thomas Hobbes (1682)

Peter Paul Rubens and Anthony van Dyck
Achilles discovered among the daughters of Lycomedes by Ulysses and Diomedes
oil on canvas
Prado, Madrid

Cornelis van Poelenburgh
The Goddess Calypso rescues Ulysses
ca. 1630
oil on copper
 Hallwyl Museum, Stockholm

John William Waterhouse
Ulysses and the Sirens
oil on canvas
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne


Come here, thou worthy of a world of praise,
That dost so high the Grecian glory raise,
Ulysses! stay thy ship, and that song hear
That none pass'd ever but it bent his ear,
But left him ravish'd, and instructed more
By us, then any ever heard before.
For we know all things whatsoever were
In wide Troy labour'd; whatsoever there
The Grecians and the Trojans both sustain'd
By those high issues that the Gods ordain'd.
And whatsoever all the earth can show
T'inform a knowledge of desert, we know.

– from the Odyssey of Homer, translated by George Chapman (1616) 

O stay, O pride of Greece! Ulysses stay!
Oh cease thy course, and listen to our lay!
Blest is the man ordain'd our voice to hear,
The song instructs the soul, and charms the ear.
Approach! thy soul shall into raptures rise!
Approach! and learn new wisdom from the wise!
We know whate'er the kings of mighty name
Achieved at Ilion in the field of fame;
Whate'er beneath the sun's bright journey lies.
Oh stay, and learn new wisdom from the wise! 

– from the Odyssey of Homer, translated by Alexander Pope (1725) 

attributed to Domenichino
Scylla and Charybdis with Circe in the sky and the ship of Ulysses
before 1641
British Museum

Annibale Carracci
Study of Sirens for 'Ulysses and the Sirens'
ca. 1596-98
drawing - for fresco at Palazzo Farnese
Royal Collection, Windsor

Annibale Carracci
ca. 1595
Royal Collection, Windsor

Annibale Carracci
Study for a Companion of Ulysses
ca. 1596-98
drawing - for fresco at Palazzo Farnese
Royal Collection, Windsor

Anonymous artist
Bust of a Companion of Ulysses
ca. 1769-1805
British Museum

Circe with the Companions of Ulysses
ca. 1527
Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence


    The goddess rising, asks her guests to stay, 
Who blindly follow where she leads the way.
Eurylochus alone of all the band,
Suspecting fraud, more prudently remain'd.
On thrones around with downy covering graced,
With semblance fair, the unhappy men she placed.
Milk newly press'd, the sacred flour of wheat,
And honey fresh, and Pramnian wines the treat:
But venom'd was the bread, and mix'd the bowl,
With drugs of force to darken all the soul:
Soon in the luscious feast themselves they lost,
And drank oblivion of their native coast.
Instant her circling wand the goddess waves,
To hogs transforms them, and the sty receives.
No more was seen the human form divine;
Head, face, and members, bristle into swine:
Still cursed with sense, their minds remain alone,
And their own voice affrights them when they groan.

– from the Odyssey of Homer, translated by Alexander Pope (1725) 

Francesco Albani
Ulysses before Circe, with enchanted Companions
ca. 1600
Royal Collection, Windsor

Johannes Stradanus
Ulysses and Circe, with enchanted Companions
Royal Collection, Windsor

Giovanni Andrea Sirani
Ulysses and Circe
ca. 1650-55
oil on canvas
Pinacoteca Capitolina, Rome

Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg
Ulysses' revenge on Penelope's suitors
oil on canvas
Hirschsprung Collection, Copenhagen

Francesco Primaticcio
Ulysses and Penelope
ca. 1545
oil on canvas
Toledo Art Museum, Ohio


Nor must that gentler murmur be supprest,
How Milk once flowing from fair Juno's breast,
Stain'd the coelestial pavement; from whence came
This milky path, its cause shown in its name.
Or is't a crowd  of stars crowning the night?
A candid diadem of condens'd light?
Or radiant souls freed from corporeal gyves
Thither repair and lead aetherial lives?
There the Atrides, there th' Aeacides,
Fierce Diomede; he, who through lands and seas
His triumphs over conquer'd nature rear'd,
Subtle Ulysses, we believe inspher'd.
There Nestor's thron'd among the Grecian peers,
Crown'd with a triple century of years.

– from the Astronomica of Manilius, translated by Edward Sherburne (1675) 

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Long-Gone Landscapes

John Linnell
River Landscape - Sunset
ca. 1860
oil on panel
Yale Center for British Art


The mountain summits sleep: glens, cliffs and caves,
    Are silent – all the black earth's reptile brood –
    The bees – the wild beasts of the mountain wood:
In depths beneath the dark red ocean's waves
    Its monsters rest, whilst wrapt in bower and spray
    Each bird is hushed that stretched its pinions to the day.

– written in Greek by Alcman (7th century BC), translated by Thomas Campbell (1803)

John Linnell
ca. 1860
oil on canvas
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

John Linnell
Study for 'Reaping'
oil on panel
Yale Center for British Art

Joseph Severn
The Deserted Village
oil on canvas, mounted on panel
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide

Thomas Gainsborough
Landscape with Shepherd
ca. 1786
painted on glass
Victoria & Albert Museum, London

Thomas Gainsborough
Wooded Moonlight Landscape
ca. 1781-82
painted on glass
Victoria & Albert Museum, London

Edwin Landseer
Highland Landscape
ca. 1830
oil on panel
Yale Center for British Art

John Sell Cotman
A Summer Day
ca. 1827-37
Yale Center for British Art

Whilst in the lands of unexhausted light
O'er which the God-like sun's unwearied sight,
    Ne're winks in clouds, or sleeps at night,
And endless spring of age the good enjoy,
Where neither want does pinch, nor plenty cloy,
    There neither earth nor sea they plow,
        Nor ought to labour ow
For food, that whil'st it nourishes does decay,
And in the lamp of life consumes away.
Thrice had these men through mortal bodies past,
    Did thrice the trial undergo,
Till all their little dross were purged at last,
        The furnace had no more to do.
        Then in rich Saturn's peaceful state
        Were they for sacred treasures plac'd,
The Muse-discovered world of Islands Fortunate.

– written in Greek by Pindar (5th century BC), translated by Abraham Cowley (1656)

John Sell Cotman
Waterfall in Desolate Landscape
before 1842
Yale Center for British Art

Joseph Mallord William Turner
Landscape with river and bay in background
ca. 1835-40
oil on canvas
Louvre, Paris

Joseph Mallord William Turner
Landscape with water
ca. 1840
oil on canvas
Tate Britain

John Constable
Extensive landscape with grey clouds
ca. 1821
oil on paper, mounted on canvas
Yale Center for British Art

Joseph Wright of Derby
Matlock Tor by moonlight
ca. 1777-80
oil on canvas
Yale Center for British Art

Joseph Wright of Derby
Lake by moonlight
ca. 1780-82
oil on canvas
Yale Center for British Art


Whene'er the Fates resume thy breath,
        No bright reversion shalt thou gain,
Unnotic'd thou shalt sink in death,
        Nor even thy memory remain;
For thy rude hand ne'er pluck'd the lovely rose
Which on the mountain of Pieria blows.

To Pluto's mansions shalt thou go,
        The stern inexorable king,
Among th' ignoble shades below
        A vain, ignoble thing;
While honour'd Sappho's Muse-embellish'd name
Shall flourish in eternity of fame.

– written in Greek by Sappho (7th-6th centuries BC), translated by Francis Fawkes (1760)