• Beyond the Canvas

Domenichino's Sibilla Cumana at Pinacoteca Nazionale di Bologna

Being inside an empty museum at night might well be the ultimate art lover's fantasy. Apart from not having to share the space with herds of other human beings, which tends to be a much broader issue as far as I'm concerned, there's a sense of heightened awareness that does result into a more intimate and meaningful relationship with the art. And whilst last night I couldn't fully realise my fantasy of blissful solitude, I am hugely grateful to Bologna's Pinacoteca for arranging an evening talk that brought together a passionate and competent curator and a very bearable number of visitors.


Domenichino (Bologna 1581 - Naples 1641) may not ring that many bells internationally, but he does deserve a place among the great Italian masters of the 16th century. A pupil of the flemish painter Denis Calvaert, he then joined the Carracci workshop, where he was said to have become Annibale's favourite.


The Sibilla Cumana, the priestess of Apollo, is a triumph of symbolism. Objects such as the lyre refer to the Greek god, who was the protector of the arts, including music. Ditto for the laurel behind the wall in the background, which was said to be the plant dear to the god. The Sybil's face is round and framed by blond hair, combed with a parting. This is the 17th century, and Domenichino abides by the rules of classicism by painting a highly idealised figure. Her look is one of amazement, her eyes are wide open, as is her mouth. You can almost hear her whisper her prophecies. Gifted with glowing white skin, the Sibilla Cumana is draped in ravishing silk dresses that are decorated with floral motifs. The turban she wears on her head is adorned with golden bands and jewels to please the aesthetic taste of the patrons.


The Sibilla Cumana is on loan from the Galleria Borghese and on display until July 31st.


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Domenico Zampieri aka Domenichino

Sibilla Cumana, 1617

Galleria Borghese, Rome

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