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Guercino's The Samian Sibyl acquired; to go on public display in the National Gallery
Guercino, The Samian Sibyl, 1651.
LONDON.- A stunning masterpiece by one of the greatest painters of 17th century Italy has been acquired for the nation through the Acceptance in Lieu Scheme. Guercino’s The Samian Sibyl (1651) is a superb example of the Baroque artist’s late style, and has been temporarily allocated to the National Gallery, where it will be on display from Thursday 8 March, alongside other 17th century Italian paintings.

Culture Minister, Ed Vaizey, said: “I’m delighted that Guercino’s The Samian Sibyl now belongs to the nation and will shortly be on public display for all to see. This stunning painting, with its fascinating history, is a brilliant example of the success of the Acceptance in Lieu scheme and it is wonderful that this arrangement continues to bring masterpieces like this into public collections.”

The Samian Sibyl was commissioned by Giuseppe Locatelli, an Italian nobleman, as one of a pair of paintings to depict the Biblical King David and a Sibyl. In the Christian era, a Sibyl was understood to be one of the pagan priestesses whose prophetic utterances foretold the birth of Christ. This beautifully crafted painting depicts a putto to the left of the Sibyl, holding a scroll that bear her words in Latin: “Hail Zion, chaste maiden who has suffered much”. These words foretell the birth of Christ by the Virgin Mary, the chaste maiden.

Guercino painted King David first, and sent it to his client before completing the companion image of the Sibyl. However, whilst working on the second painting, he was visited by the brother of the Grand Duke of Tuscany, who persuaded Guercino to sell it to him instead. That painting, The Cumaean Sibyl with a Putto, passed into the National Gallery’s ownership last year.

Guercino now set about producing a replacement painting to fulfil his original contract with Locatelli. However, instead of painting a copy, Guercino crafted a fresh composition, The Samian Sibyl, which was sent to Locatelli and hung with King David.

The two paintings remained in Italy until 1768, when John, 1st Earl of Spencer purchased them. The paintings were bought for the newly finished Spencer House, a townhouse on the east side of Green Park in London. The paintings remained in the Great Room in Spencer House until the late 19th century. During the last century, the paintings have hung at Althorp, the Northamptonshire home of the Spencer family.

Through the Acceptance in Lieu scheme, access to this painting of outstanding beauty will be much increased. The painting will remain on public display in the National Gallery until a decision has been taken on where the painting should find a permanent home.

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