The Cumaean Sibyl

The Cumaean Sibyl
An artistic representation of past prophecies

The Sibyls, classical figures of great significance, have been integrated into the floor of the Siena Cathedral (which you can visit with us at Conosci Firenze) as witnesses to the universality of the Christian message throughout the centuries. These magnificent prophecies, depicted by various Sienese Renaissance artists, consist of a total of ten panels (five for each nave) and are named after different geographical regions of the known world at that time: the Persian Sibyl, the Hellespontine Sibyl, the Erythraean Sibyl, the Phrygian Sibyl, the Samian Sibyl, and the Delphic Sibyl, representing the Eastern and Greek world; the Libyan Sibyl for Africa; and then the Western ones (with reference to Italy): the Cumaean or Cimmerian Sibyl, the Cumaean Sibyl (inspired by Virgil), and the Tiburtine Sibyl.
 
The Cumaean Sibyl (Image 1), portrayed in the third panel of the right nave, was designed by Giovanni di Stefano and is one of the most renowned Sibyls. She is depicted as an elderly woman with a stern gaze, her head wrapped in a veil that falls on her shoulders. In the top right corner, an inscription supported by winged putti recalls the fourth verse of the fourth eclogue of Virgil: "ULTIMA CUMAEI VENIT IAM / CARMINIS AETAS MAGNUS / AB INTEGRO SAECLORUM / NASCITUR ORDO IAM RE/DIT ET VIRGO, REDEUNT / SATURNIA REGNA IAM / NOVA PROGENIES CAELO / DEMITTITUR ALTO" ("Now comes the final era of the Cumaean prophecy, a new order of the ages is born anew, the virgin returns, the reign of Saturn returns, a new lineage descends from the heights of heaven"). The prophetess announces the advent of a child born of a virgin who is destined to bring peace to the world. This prophecy, according to a long tradition that Dante later codified in his Divine Comedy, is interpreted as the announcement of the birth of Christ. Another iconographic element of the Sibyl alludes to Virgil: the branch held in her right hand, reminiscent of the golden bough in the sixth book of the Aeneid. With her left hand, the Sibyl tightly holds three books, while another six are burning in a pile on the ground. These are the Sibylline Books (1), a collection of oracles that, according to legend, were destroyed by Tarquin.

(1) The Sibylline Books played a fundamental role in moments of great prodigies, which announced a possible rupture in the relationship between the gods and the Roman people. These precious works contained detailed explanations of the prodigies and provided indications of the actions to be taken to restore harmony.


 
The Cumaean Sibyl An artistic representation of past prophecies
Altri articoli
Disquieting statue in the Uffizi Gallery
Disquieting statue in the Uffizi Gallery

Cosimo the Elder purchased the statue and showed it at the entrance of the new palace.

A giraffe in Palazzo Vecchio
A giraffe in Palazzo Vecchio

The animal was a gift the Egyptian sultan offered to Lorenzo in 1487 to obtain his support.

Stefano Bardini
Stefano Bardini

Bardini was a promoter of the Renaissance myth in fact he contributed to the re-discovery of Florentine art.

Hercoles and Nesso by Giambologna
Hercoles and Nesso by Giambologna

A great governor needs intelligence but also energy and force to be at the head of a princedom.