Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475 -  1564): The Delphic Sibyl

Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475 - 1564): The Delphic Sibyl

8/6/2021, 1:45:43 PM
Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475 - 1564): The Delphic Sibyl, 1509, Fresco, 350 x 380 cm, Cappella Sistina, Vatican Michelangelo uses both architecture and human form to forge a three dimensional presence: the stony perspectives provide the rigor, while the soft, fluent motions fill up, and enliven the angular contours. His foreshortening of the arms is uncompromising, and consequently the illusion of space is overwhelming in its realism. Unwinding a scroll with her left hand, the Delphic Sibyl seems to be turning toward the viewer. She looks away from what is written, apparently in distress from what the future portends — and what she must disclose. 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 word Sibyl comes (via Latin) from the ancient Greek word sibylla, meaning prophetess. The unique female figures and representations of the eternal mother are overwhelming. 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. The sibyl’s extremities accord with the neck and the face in a convincing harmony — a classic pyramidal hierarchy. To consolidate the scene into a unified composition as a whole, the artist relates the prophetess to the figures behind, juxtaposing their heads, arms, and legs (a trademark method appearing in some of the sculptor’s earlier works). The garment consists of three parts: a cool blue mantle that also functions as head gear, and a double layered toga, one layer colored a warm green, another a hot orange and gold. Though covering most of the body, the clothing nonetheless accentuates the sitter’s chest and waistline, suggesting a young and physically attractive female. Indeed, although the arms reveal some musculature, the face of the subject is one of Michelangelo’s most explicitly feminine and beautiful.

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