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Zampieri Domenico called Domenichino

(Bologna 1581 - Naples 1641)

This canvas depicts a Sibyl, according to an unusual iconography, as this subject is generally portrayed without musical attributes, which this painting contains. Domenichino was known for his musical skills, and well acquainted with the world of music, and refers to it through both the scroll with the notes and the handle of the viola da gamba, an instrument used to accompany the song that seems to come from the prophetess’ partially open mouth. The grapevine, painted behind the sibyl, also refers to this sphere, as does the laurel, a tree sacred to Apollo, god of music and the arts.

Object details

oil on canvas
cm 123 x 89

19th-century frame decorated with palmettes and lotus leaves



Rome, Scipione Borghese, 1617 (Della Pergola 1955, p. 28); Inv. 1700, room V, no. 25; Inv. 1790, room IV, no. 42; Inventario Fidecommissario 1833, p. 10; purchased by Italian state, 1902.

  • 1953 Roma, Palazzo Braschi;
  • 1962 Bologna, Palazzo dell'Archiginnasio;
  • 1982 Roma, Palazzo Venezia;
  • 1985 Roma, Palazzo Venezia;
  • 1989 San Pietroburgo, Ermitage;
  • 1992 Roma, Palazzo delle Esposizioni;
  • 1996-1997 Roma, Palazzo Venezia;
  • 2001 Genova, Palazzo Ducale;
  • 2004 Oslo, Nasjonal Galleriet;
  • 2012 Roma, Palazzo Venezia;
  • 2013 San Pietroburgo, Ermitage;
  • 2014-2015 Roma, Palazzo Barberini;
  • 2015-2016 Parigi, Museo del Louvre.
Conservation and Diagnostic
  • 1933 Tito Venturini Papari;
  • 1946-1947 Carlo Matteucci;
  • 1953 Editech (indagini diagnostiche);
  • 1961-1962 Renato Massi (restauro della cornice);
  • 1966-1967 Carlo Ceccotti (disinfestazione e restauro della cornice).


Scipione Borghese purchased this work by Domenichino in 1617, as is proven by a receipt for 150 scudi given to the artist ‘for the payment of two paintings’ (Della Pergola 1955, p. 28), which no doubt refer to this Sibyl and The Hunting of Diana (inv. no. 53). The sale is further confirmed by Giovan Pietro Bellori (1672, p. 353), who in his Lives stated that the Bolognese painter executed the work for the rich, powerful cardinal, contradicting what Giovan Pietro Zanotti maintained with regard to the provenance of the work from the collection of the Albergati family (Malvasia 1678 (1841), p. 244). In addition, as we see from the only known drawing for this work (Windsor Castle, P.H. no. 100v), the painting was executed in 1617, the year in which the artist signed the contract for the Fano frescoes, which not by chance were sketched on the back of a sheet which contains a charcoal study for the pose of the prophetess on its front side (Spear 1996, p. 422).

In all likelihood, the iconography of this painting was suggested by the cultured Scipione: known in his day for his musical interests, he possessed a 17th-century treatise on the sibyls (Trinchieri Camiz 1992, pp. 34-35). In spite of this evidence for the identity of the subject of the painting, it was variously described in the oldest sources: as a ‘Muse’ by Iacomo Manilli in 1650 (p. 85), as ‘St Cecilia’ by the compiler of the 1700 inventory, and as an allegory of ‘Music’ in 1790.

Yet as the turban suggests, the canvas undoubtedly depicts a sibyl – most likely that of Cumae – who is about to play a viola da gamba. According to critics, the instrument, together with the score, alludes to the musical circle of Gerolamo Giacobbi, a Bolognese composer who knew Domenichino (Disertori 1967, p. 17). The sibyl’s fine facial features, framed by blond hair gathered in a lavish headdress, show a clear connection with the Bolognese school. Indeed, her gaze is typical of the female figures depicted by Guido Reni. Her slightly parted lips, meanwhile, perhaps indicate that she is thinking about the piece to be played. We further note the presence of several laurel leaves beyond the wall in the background; this tree was sacred to Apollo, the protector of the arts and music. The grape leaves on the left, on the other hand, allude to Bacchus, the god of the vine and poetic inspiration. The vine also refers to Christ, whose coming was in fact announced to the Emperor Augustus by a sibyl, according to the poet Virgil (Eclogues, IV). Kristina Hermann Fiore (1989, pp. 111-113), however, gives a different interpretation of the objects behind the sibyl: the vine and the laurel symbolise worldly inspiration and divine victory, respectively, while the wall indicates the limits of human effort.

The great popularity of this canvas led to the production of numerous replicas, including a copy with slight variations. Held today in the Wallace Collection in London, this copy probably came from the Ratta family in Bologna; it was purchased by the Marchioness of Hertford (Wallace Collection 1928, p. 83). A version, perhaps of later date, is on display at the Pinacoteca Capitolina.

Engravings of the work were made in the 18th century by Tullio Marcucci and Pietro Fontana (post 1794).

  Antonio Iommelli

  • I. Manilli, Villa Borghese fuori di Porta Pinciana, Roma 1650, p. 85;
  • P. Bellori, Le vite de’ pittori, scultori et architetti moderni, Roma 1672, p. 353;
  • C. Malvasia, Felsina Pittrice, Bologna 1678, a cura di G. P. Zanotti 1841-1844, p. 244;
  • E. e C. Platner, Beschreibung der Stadt Rom, III, Stuttgart 1842, p. 289;
  • G. Piancastelli, Catalogo dei quadri della Galleria Borghese in Archivio Galleria Borghese, 1891, p. 61;
  • A. Venturi, Il Museo e la Galleria Borghese, Roma 1893, p. 61;
  • L. Serra, Il Domenichino, Roma 1909, p. 61;
  • L. Venturi, Note sulla Galleria Borghese, in “L’Arte”, XII, 1909, pp. 49-50;
  • H. Voss, Die Malerei des Barock in Rom, Berlin 1925, p. 509;
  • R. Longhi, Precisioni nelle Gallerie Italiane, I, La R. Galleria Borghese, Roma 1928;
  • Wallace Collection Catalogues. Pictures and Drawings, London 1928, p. 83;
  • J. Pope-Hennessy, Domenichino Drawings at Windsor Castle, London 1948, p. 44;
  • A. De Rinaldis, Catalogo della Galleria Borghese, Roma 1948, p. 57;
  • P. della Pergola, Itinerario della Galleria Borghese, Roma 1951, p. 55;
  • A. Petrucci, Catalogo generale delle Stampe tratte dai rami incisi posseduti dalla Calcografia Nazionale, Roma 1953, pp. 62, 79, 154-5;
  • P. della Pergola, La Galleria Borghese. I Dipinti, I, Roma 1955, p. 29, n. 32;
  • M. Fagiolo, Domenichino ovvero classicismo del primo Seicento, Roma 1963, p. 99;
  • P. della Pergola, L’Inventario Borghese del 1693 (II), in “Arte Antica e Moderna”, 1964, n. 28, pp. 258, 455;
  • D. Posner, Domenichino and Lanfranco in the early development of Baroque Painting in Rome, in Essays in honour of W.Friedlander, Marsyas 1965, p.140;
  • E. Borea, Domenichino, Milano 1965, pp. 123-124, 175, n. 70;
  • E. Spear, Studies in the early Domenichino, Pricetown University 1965, pp. 362-366;
  • E. Borea, Varie su Domenichino, in “Paragone”, CXCI, 1966, pp 63-70, in p. 68;
  • R. Longhi, Saggi e ricerche 1925-28. Precisioni nelle gallerie italiane. La Galleria Borghese, Firenze 1967, p. 335;
  • B. Disertori, Il Domenichino, pittore e trascrittore di musiche e musicologo, in “Atti dell’accademia Rovetana degli Agiati”, CCXVI, Rovereto 1967, pp.5-23, tav. a/IV estratto;
  • L. Ferrara, La Galleria Borghese, Novara 1970, p. 30;
  • K. Rozman, Painter Franc Kavčič/caucig and his drawings of old masterpieces, in “Zbornik za umetnostno zgodovino”, XI-XII, 1974-1976, pp. 52-53;
  • B. Disertori, La musica nei quadri antichi, Trento 1978, p. 54;
  • E. Spear, Domenichino, I, New Heaven-London 1982, pp. 191-192, n. 51;
  • K. Herrmann Fiore, Il Bacchino malato autoritratto del Caravaggio ed altre figure bacchiche degli artisti, in Caravaggio. Nuove riflessioni, Quaderni di Palazzo Venezia, VI, 1989, pp. 95-134
  • F. Trinchieri Camiz, in Invisibilia. Rivedere i capolavori. Vedere i progetti, catalogo della mostra (Roma, Palazzo delle Esposizioni, 1992), a cura di M. E. Tittoni, S. Guarino, Roma 1992, p. 34;
  • M. Calvesi, Tra vastità di orizzonti e puntuali prospettive: il collezionismo di Scipione Borghese dal Caravaggio al Reni al Bernini, in Galleria Borghese, a cura di A. Coliva, Roma 1994, pp. 274-276, in p. 290;
  • E. Spear, scheda in Domenichino 1581-1641, catalogo della mostra (Roma, Palazzo Venezia, 1996-1997), a cura di A. Emiliani et al, Milano 1996, p. 422, n. 25;
  • P. Moreno, C. Stefani, Galleria Borghese, Milano 2000, p. 380;
  • Viaggio in Italia: un corteo magico dal Cinquecento al Novecento, catalogo della mostra (Genova, Palazzo Ducale, 2001), a cura di G. Marcenaro, Milano 2001;
  • K. Herrmann Fiore, Galleria Borghese Roma scopre un tesoro. Dalla pinacoteca ai depositi un museo che non ha più segreti, San Giuliano Milanese 2006, p. 24;
  • C. Malvasia, Felsina pittrice, XIII, Lives of Domenichino and Francesco Gessi, ed. critica a cura di L. Pericolo, 2012.
  • C. Strinati, Il mestiere dell’artista. Dal Caravaggio al Baciccio, Roma 2012, pp. XI-XII.
  • A. Coliva, scheda in Da Guercino a Caravaggio, catalogo della mostra (Roma, Palazzo Barberini, 2014-2015), a cura di A. Coliva, M. Gregori, S. Androsov, Roma 2014, pp. 80-81;
  • A. De Simone, Domenichino e la musica, in "Studi di Storia dell’Arte", XXVII, 2016, pp. 175-192.