A study of the early Renaissance Sibyl cycles in the art of Northern and Central Italy
Sibyl cycles in Northern and Central Italy, in the Early Renaissance. Previous published scholarship listed twenty-two sites. I now know of forty. Twenty-three of these may be considered Early Renaissance works of art and are the subject of this study. This study is not primarily engaged with history of Art but with the history of Ideas. That is, it is not a study of the painters. their methods and status but rather with the study of the development of the genre. its textual sources, the content of the inscribed oracles. the development of the pictorial conventions and symbolism. the transmission of these and the cultural significance of the genre. The dissertation is concerned with artistic styles and techniques only in so far as they illuminate the pictorial origin of the works and their iconographic significance in terms of the ideas conveyed. It describes and defines regional sub-genres. each with clear rules and conventions. These have not previously been identified and no comprehensive national conspectus exists. Structure of the Dissertation The dissertation is in three parts. The first part addresses the nature and origin of Sibyls (who and what they were) and their significance in cultural history until the Renaissance. Part Two is concerned with the origins and transmission of text and iconographic conventions in the Renaissance Sibyl cyeles. Pari three is a catalogue and survey of each Sibyl cycle site in Central and Northern Italy, along with a comprehensive photographic record. Great destruction of some cycles has taken place since the 1960s and the compilation of a complete photographic record is urgent and a significant aim of the present work. There are few published coloured photographs of the full cycles. none complete except for Siena. This dissertation is wide in scope and is in large part a catalogue and survey of all known Italian Sibyl cycles. Because of the limitations of a Doctoral dissertation. at times the transition from one site to another may appear abrupt and disjunct. Nonetheless, the structure is logical and careful. Sites are arranged chronologically, according to genre. The reader is directed to the detailed table of contents, if a review of structure and order be required. Research Method The method of research was to form a comprehensive list of Sibyl sites in Italy by consulting published English and Continental books. journals and locally produced historical papers as well as word of mouth advice in Italy. I visited all the sites and made a photographic record. Origin and transmission of text was established by consulting contemporary manuscripts that either specify the oracle text or describe the original Orsini. and other, frescos. These manuscripts are widely scattered in Europe and difficult of access so, where possible, a significant example of each kind of manuscript is reproduced in photographs or photocopy, transcribed and translated in the Appendices to the dissertation.