- Museum number
The European Sibyl; sitting on clouds, she holds and indicates to an open book. c.1480-90
- Production date
- 1480-1490 (circa)
Height: 174 millimetres
Width: 104 millimetres
- Curator's comments
- The print belongs to a group of twenty-four 'Prophets' and twelve 'Sibyls' executed in a style called by Hind the 'Broad Manner' and now attributed to Francesco Rosselli; the group is based on the earlier series of the same subject engraved in the 'Fine Manner' by Baccio Baldini (for this set see the entry for Hind C.I.13.A.II: P&D V.1.17).
Rosselli's 'Prophets' and 'Sibyls' are arranged in the same fashion as their models, although they possess a stylistic character quite different from Baldini's. The latter's works are generally based on German prints (chiefly Schongauer and the Master E.S.) while Rosselli's were conceived in an Italianate spirit, close to the early manner of Botticelli. Rosselli also reduced the excess of ornamental details of the old models and revised the text below each figure, separating words that Baldini had combined. The engravings are accompanied by a text explaining the prophecy expressed by the biblical personages, probably quoted by the text of a 'sacra rappresentazione' ascribed to the Florentine poet Feo Belcari and performed in 1471 at the church of St Felice in Piazza, on the occasion of Duke Galeazzo Maria Sforza's visit to Florence. The correspondence between the text of the play and the series of prints is not straightforward (see M. J. Zucker, 'The Illustrated Bartsch, Commentary', vol. 24, part 1, 1993, pp. 160-1) since the printed version of Belcari's text includes twenty-one prophets and nine siblys, not twenty-four and twelve respectively in the engravings. It may well be that the engravings are closer to the original version of the play as his engravings follow soon after, and that the printed text from the end of the fifteenth century incorporates later changes. In spite of the inconsistencies it is generally assumed that Belcari's text is the literary source for the engravings, with their arrangement mirroring that of the theatrical production with two prophets alternating with one sibyl.
The 'Prophets' and 'Sibyls' were engraved on both side of each plate; the original plates appear to be listed in the Rosselli inventory (1525) in the following way: "17 pezi di sobile e profeti, dopi" (17 double [side] pieces of Sibyls and Prophets). The group is generally dated between 1480 to 1490.
The subject of the 'Sibyls' was a very popular one since the Middle Ages; semi-mythical pagan women, reputed to have foretold the coming of Christ. Sibyls did not have a well-defined iconography prior to the fifteenth century; in the Middle Ages there were only two of them (the most famous Sibyls Erythrean and Tiburtine). The creation of ten of them is due to the early Christian writer and apologist Lactantius (fourth century AD) whose greatest work, the 'Divinae Institutione', was printed for the first time in Subiaco (near Rome) in 1465. In the meantime, the standard roster of ten Sibyls had been increased to a dozen with the addition of two recently fabricated members, the European and Agrippan Sibyls.
The series of twelve 'Sibyls' engraved in the 'Broad Manner' exists in three states, each without numbers: an initial issue was followed by a second state in which small amounts of shading were added in areas that had been blank in the first state; finally, the third state was heavily reworked. The second and third states of the 'Cimmerian' and 'Agrippan' Sibyls (Hind nos. 4 and 12) were engraved on a different plate.
The BM possesses an almost complete set of the first state (fine impressions with wide margins), lacking Hind nos. 1 and 7 (respectively the Persian and Cumaean sibyls); one impression of the second state (Hind no. 11, the European sibyl) and a complete set of the third one, including the two new plates for Hind nos. 4 and 12 (respectively the Cimmerian and Agrippa sibyls).
For a fuller discussion of this set see A.M. Hind, 'Early Italian Engraving', I, London, 1938, pp. 153-161; M.J. Zucker, 'The Illustrated Bartsch, Commentary', vol. 24, part 2, 1994, pp. 38-41; G. Lambert, Les Premières Gravures Italiennes quattrocento-début de cinquecento, Inventaire de la collection du department des Estampes et de la Photographie, Paris, 1999, pp. 95-96.
The present engraving is the second state of the print, it varies from the first in the addition of a small tuft of feathers behind the hat and additional shading above and below the waist; examples of the first state are in the BM (P&D 1868-6-12-280), Milan (Pinacoteca Ambrosiana) and in the Rothschild collection (Louvre, Paris). The BM also possesses the third state of the print, heavily reworked (see P&D 1845-8-25-257).
- Not on display
- Acquisition date
- Prints and Drawings
- Registration number