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Thursday 3 May 2018

Agostino Veneziano’s engraving, “The Cumaean Sibyl”, 1516

Agostino Veneziano (aka Agostino dei Musi) (1490–1540; fl.1509–36)

“The Cumaean Sibyl”, 1516, after Raphael (1483–1520) or “a Raphael School drawing by Giulio Romano or Gian Francesco Peni” (as proposed by the Curator of the British Museum [see comment for BM no. H,7.29]).

Engraving on fine laid paper trimmed along the image borderline and backed with a support sheet.
Signed on plate with the monogram “A.V” on rock at right and with the date “1516”
Size: (sheet) 16.9 x 12.9 cm.

State ii (of iii?) showing the erasure of the letters “PL” at the lower left corner of the first state, as shown in TIB 26 (14) 123-1 (109) (see also BM no., H,7.29) and before the addition of Antonio Salamanca’s name as publisher at the lower left and wear to Veneziano’s monogram at lower right (see this later state at the Art Institute of Chicago: Note that this impression is the same state as held by the Rijksmuseum but the museum does not propose the state of their impression to confirm my attribution.

Bartsch XIV.109.123; TIB 26 (14) 123-1 (109)
The British Museum offers the following description of this print:
“The Cumaean Sibyl standing in a landscape with a dog at her feet; she is receiving light rays into the basket of sand that she is holding in both hands”

The Rijksmuseum offers the following description of this print:
“The Sibille of Cumae is in a landscape with a basket full of sand in her hands. Apollo gave her a life-year for every grain of sand. There is a dog on the left side of her. In the background a village on a river.”

Condition: crisp early impression with no signs of wear to the plate, but with a slight smear of ink across the central figure’s head (no doubt occurring during the printing process), trimmed to the image borderline. The sheet is in excellent condition (i.e. there are no tears, holes, folds, abrasions, stains or foxing) and backed with a support sheet of archival (millennium quality) washi paper. There is a previous collector’s ink stamp (verso) that is faintly visible on the front.

I am selling this important and rare print for AU$412 (currently US$310.12/EUR258.8/GBP228.29 at the time of posting this print) including postage and handling to anywhere in the world.

If you are interested in purchasing this engraving executed within the decade that Leonardo painted his “Mona Lisa”, please contact me ( and I will send you a PayPal invoice to make the payment easy.

This print has been sold

For those that dislike hearing about other folk’s problems you really shouldn’t read about the famous Apollonian oracle: the Sibyl of Cumae. For those that love to hear that others can have more than a bad-hair-day then this tale is for you!

The following explanation is a brief summary offered by the British Museum of Ovid’s account about this prophetess in “Metamorphoses”:

“… she [The Cumaean Sibyl] was granted a wish by Apollo if she agreed on spending a night with him, and she asked to live for as many years as grains of sand she could hold in her hand; but she then spurned the god's advances; as a punishment, Apollo granted her eternal life and not eternal youth; her body shrivelled and became so small she was put into a jar.”
So sad.

Regarding this engraving, I like the Cumaean Sibyl’s idea of “a handful of sand” to present to Apollo—a full basket load held in her hands! So cheeky!

I also wish to point out the oak tree—or I hope it’s an oak tree drawn loosely—shown behind the sibyl as it has a special role in the way that the sibyl communicated with common folk seeking her advice. From my understanding of this particular sibyl, she liked to write her prophecies on oak leaves. Sadly, the sibyl also liked to let the wind carry off her leaf-written prophecies in many different directions rather than allowing them to be read in sequence.

Beyond the symbolism and stories about the Cumaean Sibyl, the Art Institute of Chicago offers the following important insight about this print:

“During the early 16th century, Greco-Roman mythological subjects such as this one were understood as prefiguring themes from the New Testament. In this print, the sibyl’s visionary role is likened to those of Christian prophets and saints, who were often depicted in classically pastoral settings.”

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