(b. 1475, Caprese, d. 1564, Roma)

The Delphic Sibyl

Fresco, 350 x 380 cm
Cappella Sistina, Vatican

Unwinding a scroll with her left hand, the Delphic Sibyl seems to be turning toward the viewer. The effect of movement is accentuated by the swirls of the light blue mantle lined with yellow fabric with red shadows and the pattern of the folds of the light green tunic. The very refined colours are characterized by delicate tonal passages and enamel-like surfaces.

The unique female figures and representations of the eternal mother are overwhelming. Of course, the Sibyls differ vastly from the Prophets, for Michelangelo remained mindful of the saying 'mulier taceat in ecclesia'. With the exception of the Pythia of Delphi, they are not conceived as priestesses. It is that which is beautiful and most characteristic, in short, their essentially feminine quality, that is brought out. As a group, including not only the three beautiful young women but the others too, they represent the Renaissance ideal of the virago, in the original sense of the word; a woman physically and mentally heroic. One must imagine these Sibyls free of male bondage, chiefly because their male aspect, existing side by side with the female - for they are not masculine women - is very much in evidence in the form of strength and power. This, admittedly, applies least of all to the Pythia of Delpbi who shines with a priestly and inspired radiance, which does not prevent this pagan servant of Apollo from being a young and enchanting girl.

The Delphic virgin is coifed with a white priestly band beneath a peacock blue headdress draped like a crown or diadem; she gives true oracles and lives on in the great Holy Virgins of Christian art, who often wear a sibylline expression. The left arm bent over the open scroll is prefigured in the 'Madonna Doni', the fair hair is blown back by the wind of the spirit.