Art/ Collection/ Art Object

The Sibyl

Willem Drost (Dutch, Amsterdam 1633–1659 Venice)
ca. 1654
Oil on canvas
38 1/2 x 30 3/4 in. (97.8 x 78.1 cm)
Credit Line:
Theodore M. Davis Collection, Bequest of Theodore M. Davis, 1915
Accession Number:
Not on view
Although once a well-known Rembrandt, there is now a strong consensus that this canvas was painted about 1654–55 by his pupil, Willem Drost (1633–1659). The female type, the drawing of facial features, and the painterly execution of the costume are characteristic of Drost. The subject (which is rare in Northern Europe) and composition appear to have been inspired by a recent Italian example such as Domenichino's Cumaean Sibyl of 1616–17 in the Galleria Borghese, Rome. Drost worked in Italy from 1655 until his early death.
Drost's authorship of this picture has been supported by most specialists since 1923, and may be considered as beyond reasonable doubt. Comparisons with other works by the young artist suggest a date of about 1654, when he was still in Amsterdam and very much under the influence of Rembrandt.

The painter's technique was greatly clarified by conservation carried out in 1995 by Hubert von Sonnenburg, in preparation for the exhibition "Rembrandt/Not Rembrandt in The Metropolitan Museum of Art." As he reported in the catalogue, the present composition was painted over another one (evidently with a similar figure) by turning the canvas upside down, applying a light reddish brown priming, and then laying in extensive areas of shadow. More opaque paints were scumbled over this dark but translucent layer to describe drapery and other forms. The face was rather softly modeled in warm ocherous tones, and thick impasto was used in the drapery on the shoulder and in highlights on the turban and along the neckline. In the past, the assertiveness of these highlights and of the impasto cloak was considered as typical of the late Rembrandt, as alien to Drost, or as suggestive of later intervention, but technical examination reveals that these effects were toned down considerably by scumbling and glazes when the artist completed the picture. The apparent inconsistencies of execution, and the soft or painterly touch that some critics have seen as differing from Drost's style of about 1654, are largely the result of the artist's working in a more superficial manner than usual because of the preexisting design, and of later abrasion and other damage. Before 1995, the effects of past cleanings and old restorations played an inscrutable part in the responses of connoisseurs.

Despite these considerations, the manner of execution found in The Met's picture has often reminded scholars of other paintings by or attributed to Drost, in particular the Young Woman in a Brocade Gown of about 1654 (Wallace Collection, London). Furthermore, the facial type in that painting, in The Sibyl, and in the original version of the Young Woman with a Pearl Necklace (Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, Dresden) could be described as idealizations or variations of the features seen in the Portrait of a Woman (the Painter's Fiancée?), dated 1653 (Museum Bredius, The Hague), and in the Bathsheba with King David's Letter, dated 1654 (Musée du Louvre, Paris). Whether or not that model is the artist's fiancée or wife (for further discussion, see Portrait of a Man (Self-Portrait?), 41.116.2), the transformations of the figure type are comparable to those found in the favorite female types of Rubens, Rembrandt, and other artists of the period.

The picture has been known as The Sibyl since its earliest trace. Presumably, the title was chosen on analogy with the similarly posed and comparably dressed figure in Domenichino's celebrated Cumaean Sibyl of about 1616–17 (Galleria Borghese, Rome). It has been plausibly suggested (Bikker 2005) that one of the many painted copies of that picture (which was not engraved until the eighteenth century) was seen by Drost in the Netherlands. The possibility of another Italian source cannot be excluded, since Orazio Gentileschi, Guercino, and other cisalpine painters treated the subject. Netherlandish precedents include Jan van Eyck's
Cumaean Sibyl, on the exterior of the Ghent Altarpiece, and Maarten van Heemskerck's Erythraean Sibyl (Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam), which was painted in 1564 on the wing of a private triptych. Ten full-length sibyls (each with a book), engraved by Philips Galle after Anthonie Blocklandt, were published in Antwerp in 1575, and are inscribed with verses by Philip II's librarian, Benito Arias Montano (1527–1598).

In contrast to these earlier northern examples, where each sibyl's foretelling of the coming of Christ is either obvious from the pictorial context or conveyed by an inscription, Drost appears to have chosen the subject (as in his erotic Bathsheba) as a mere pretext for the image of an exotic type.

[2016; adapted from Liedtke 2007]
Richard Clemson Barnett, London (until 1881; his sale, Christie's, London, January 1881, no. 90, as by Rembrandt, for £273 to Lesser); [Lesser, London, from 1881]; baron Étienne de Beurnonville, Paris (by 1884–85; his sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, June 3, 1884, no. 293, as by Rembrandt, for Fr 18,100, bought in; his sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, January 30–31, 1885, no. 69, as by Rembrandt, for Fr 6,500); [Sedelmeyer, Paris, in 1902]; [T. J. Blakeslee, New York, in 1902]; [Lawrie & Co., London, by 1902–5; their sale, Christie's, London, January 28, 1905, no. 102, for £3,360, bought in]; [Trotti, Paris, 1905; sold for £6,000 to Davis]; Theodore M. Davis, Newport, R.I. (1905–d. 1915; his estate, on loan to the MMA, 1915–30)
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Hudson-Fulton Celebration," September–November 1909, no. 101 (as by Rembrandt, lent by Theo. M. Davis, Newport, R.I.).

Art Institute of Chicago. "Loan Exhibition of Paintings, Drawings, and Etchings by Rembrandt and His Circle," December 19, 1935–January 19, 1936, no. 11 (as by Willem Drost).

Worcester Art Museum. "Rembrandt and His Circle," February 4–March 1, 1936, no. 12 (as by Willem Drost).

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Art of Rembrandt," January 21–?, 1942, no catalogue.

Art Gallery of Toronto. "The Classical Contribution to Western Civilization," December 15, 1948–January 31, 1949, not in catalogue.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Classical Contribution to Western Civilization," April 21–September 5, 1949, not in catalogue.

Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Coe College. May 16–June 12, 1952, no catalogue?

Decatur, Ga. Agnes Scott College. April 15–May 15, 1954, no catalogue?

Athens, Ga. Georgia Museum of Art, University of Georgia. May 18–June 11, 1954, no catalogue.

Columbus, Ohio. Columbus Gallery of Fine Arts. "International Masterpieces Exhibit," November 8–December 16, 1956, no. 25.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Rembrandt/Not Rembrandt in The Metropolitan Museum of Art," October 10, 1995–January 7, 1996, no. 29.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Age of Rembrandt: Dutch Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art," September 18, 2007–January 6, 2008, no catalogue.

Paul Eudel. L'Hôtel Drouot et la curiosité en 1883–1884. Paris, 1885, pp. 405.

Paul Eudel. L'Hôtel Drouot et la curiosité en 1884–1885. Paris, 1886, p. 199.

Wilhelm [von] Bode with the assistance of C. Hofstede de Groot. The Complete Work of Rembrandt. Vol. 7, Paris, 1902, pp. 17-18, 118, no. 528, pl. 528, as by Rembrandt, painted about 1667; calls it "hitherto unknown".

Illustrated Catalogue of the Eighth Series of 100 Paintings by Old Masters. Paris, 1902, p. 40, no. 31, ill. p. 41, as by Rembrandt; dates it about 1667, and states that it was engraved in mezzotint.

"The Sibyl, by Rembrandt: Princess Maria Louisa Josephine by Goya." Museum of Fine Arts Bulletin 3 (December 1905), p. 45, reports its loan to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, by Theodore M. Davis.

R[oger]. E. F[ry]. "Rembrandt's Sibyl." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 1 (December 1906), pp. 162–63, reports its loan to the MMA.

Adolf Rosenberg. Rembrandt, des Meisters Gemälde. Ed. W. R. Valentiner. 3rd ed. Stuttgart, 1909, p. 561, ill. p. 386, as painted about 1656; says the figural type is that of Hendrickje Stoffels.

Wilhelm R. Valentiner. The Hudson-Fulton Celebration: Catalogue of an Exhibition Held in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1909, vol. 1, p. 102, no. 101, ill. opp. p. 102, as painted about 1656.

Jan Veth. "Rembrandt en de Italiaansche Kunst." Oud-Holland 33 (1915), pp. 13–14, fig. 39, states that the sitter is the same as in a Rembrandt portrait of a young woman [now attributed to Willem Drost] in the National Gallery, London; believes a Sibyl by Domenichino (Galleria Borghese, Rome) served as the model for this work; agrees with Bode's date [see Ref. 1902] of about 1667.

C[ornelis]. Hofstede de Groot. A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch Painters of the Seventeenth Century. Ed. Edward G. Hawke. Vol. 6, London, 1916, pp. 141–42, no. 214, notes that the signature and date of 1654 mentioned in the Beurnonville sale catalogue are no longer visible.

Wilhelm R. Valentiner. Rembrandt wiedergefundene Gemälde. Stuttgart, 1921, p. 126.

John C. van Dyke. Rembrandt and His School. New York, 1923, p. 64, pl. X-38, attributes it to Drost.

D. S. Meldrum. Rembrandt's Paintings. London, 1923, p. 204, pl. CCCCXLVIII-2.

William Howe Downes. "The Great Rembrandt Question." American Magazine of Art 14 (December 1923), p. 666.

Werner Weisbach. Rembrandt. Berlin, 1926, pp. 234, 571.

Bryson Burroughs. "The Theodore M. Davis Bequest: The Paintings." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 26, section 2 (March 1931), pp. 15–16, ill. p. 23, tentatively as by Drost.

A[braham]. Bredius. Rembrandt Gemälde. Vienna, 1935, p. 18, no. 438, pl. 438.

Wilhelm R. Valentiner. "Willem Drost: Pupil of Rembrandt." Art Quarterly 2 (Autumn 1939), pp. 308, 311, fig. 15, as by Drost.

Harry B. Wehle. "A Gift of Paintings and Drawings." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 38 (June 1942), p. 161, states that it was recently attributed for a few years to Drost, but that it cannot possibly be by him; reattributes it to Rembrandt.

William M. Ivins Jr. "The Art of Rembrandt." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 37 (January 1942), p. 3, ill. p. 9, as by Rembrandt, painted about 1660.

Introduction by William M. Ivins Jr. The Unseen Rembrandt. New York, 1942, pls. 23–24 (overall and detail).

Tancred Borenius. Rembrandt: Selected Paintings. London, 1942, p. 10, fig. 9, as by Rembrandt, painted about 1667.

Wilhelm R. Valentiner. Letter to Harry B. Wehle. July 1, 1942, disagrees with the change in attribution from Drost to Rembrandt [see Ref. Wehle 1942].

Josephine L. Allen. "The Museum's Rembrandts." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 4 (November 1945), p. 74, as probably by Rembrandt.

Wilhelm R. Valentiner. Letter. April 12, 1946, reiterates his conviction that it is by Drost.

Jakob Rosenberg. Rembrandt. Cambridge, Mass., 1948, vol. 1, p. 204, 234 n. 15; vol. 2, pl. 270 (detail), as by a pupil of Rembrandt.

Ellis K. Waterhouse. Letter to Harry B. Wehle. March 15, 1952, believes it is a Dutch picture, and certainly not by Reynolds.

Eduard Plietzsch. Holländische und flämische Maler des XVII. Jahrhundert. Leipzig, 1960, p. 182, states that Valentiner [see Ref. 1939] has rightly attributed it to Drost.

Jakob Rosenberg. Rembrandt: Life & Work. rev. ed. London, 1964, pp. 326–27, fig. 270 (detail).

Hermann Kühn. "Untersuchungen zu den Malgründen Rembrandts." Jahrbuch der Staatlichen Kunstsammlungen in Baden-Württemberg 2 (1965), p. 199.

Kurt Bauch. Rembrandt Gemälde. Berlin, 1966, p. 49, states that Falck attributes it to Drost.

J[ohan]. Q[uirijn]. van Regteren Altena. "Review of Bauch 1966." Oud Holland 82, no. 1/2 (1967), p. 70, calls it in the type of Drost's female portraits, but states that the mantle is painted in Rembrandt's late manner.

Paolo Lecaldano in L'opera pittorica completa di Rembrandt. Milan, 1969, ill. p. 131, includes it among works of doubtful attribution.

Horst Gerson, ed. Rembrandt: The Complete Edition of the Paintings. By A[braham]. Bredius. 3rd ed. London, 1969, p. 589, no. 438, is unsure about the attribution to Drost, but states that he "cannot see any trace of Rembrandt's own brushwork" in it either.

Benjamin A. Rifkin. "Rembrandt and His Circle, Part 3." Art News 68 (November 1969), p. 33.

Calvin Tomkins. Merchants and Masterpieces: The Story of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1970, p. 172 [rev., enl. ed., 1989].

Wolfgang Wegner. "Symposium und Ausstellung 'Rembrandt After Three Hundred Years' in Chicago." Kunstchronik 23 (February 1970), p. 33, states that though it is attributed to Drost, it is softer than his work and not likely by him.

Werner Sumowski. Gemälde der Rembrandt-Schüler. Vol. 5, Nachträge Ortsregister. Landau/Pfalz, 1983–[94?], p. 3089, no. 2035, ill. p. 3166, as by Drost.

Paul Jeromack. "Être Rembrandt ou ne plus l'être." Connaissance des Arts no. 441 (November 1988), p. 108, ill. (color).

Walter Liedtke in Rembrandt/Not Rembrandt in The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Aspects of Connoisseurship. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Vol. 2, "Paintings, Drawings, and Prints: Art-Historical Perspectives."New York, [1995], pp. 106, 108–10, 112, 114–15, 119, no. 29, ill. (color), as probably painted by Willem Drost about 1654–56, possibly in Italy.

Hubert von Sonnenburg. Rembrandt/Not Rembrandt in The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Aspects of Connoisseurship. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Vol. 1, "Paintings: Problems and Issues."New York, 1995, pp. 66–67, 69, figs. 84 (color detail), 85 (x-radiograph), 86 (x-radiograph detail), as attributed to Willem Drost.

Jonathan Bikker. "Willem Drost (1633–1658): A Rembrandt Pupil in Amsterdam, Rome, and Venice." PhD diss., Universiteit Utrecht, 2001, unpaginated[?], no. 10, ill., as "Young Woman in Fancy Dress with a Book," by Drost; dates it 1654.

Catherine B. Scallen. Rembrandt, Reputation, and the Practice of Connoisseurship. Amsterdam, 2004, pp. 297, 375 n. 52.

Esmée Quodbach. "The Age of Rembrandt: Dutch Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 65 (Summer 2007), pp. 21, 27–29, fig. 28 (Hudson-Fulton gallery photograph).

Walter Liedtke. Dutch Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2007, vol. 1, pp. xi, 167, 173–77, 180, no. 39, colorpl. 39; vol. 2, p. 708, as by Drost, dating to about 1654.

Dagmar Hirschfelder. Tronie und Porträt in der niederländischen Malerei des 17. Jahrhunderts. Berlin, 2008, pp. 138, 404, no. 99.

Walter Liedtke. "Rembrandt Revelations at the Metropolitan Museum." Jahrbuch der Berliner Museen, Beiheft: Wissenschaft auf der Suche 51 (2009), p. 43 n. 1.

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