L.58 Augustus and the Tiburtine Sibyl



Vasari, 1568, II, 211-212 (Vasari-Milanesi, V, 171-172), in his “Life” of Rosso: “…si trovarono anco fra le sue cose dopo, che fu morto due bellissimi cartoni. in uno de’quali è una Leda,… e nell’altro la Sibilla Tiburtina, che mostra à Ottaviano Imperadore la Vergine gloriosa, con Christo nato in collo.  Et in questo fece il RE Francesco, la Reina, la guardia, e il popolo con tanto numero di figure, e si ben fatte, che si puo dire con verita, che questa fusse una delle belle cose, che mai facesse il Rosso.”1

Herbet, 1902, 61 (1969, 213), 5, thought an anonymous print (Fig.Trento, after Parmigianino?, London) that he gave to the School of Fontainebleau might be related to this lost work.2  Rosso’s lost work was mentioned by Kusenberg, 1931, 102, who then, 202, n. 238, referred to the comment in the first edition of Vasari’s Lives of the “esquisse d’un tableau éxécuté par le Rosso pour le chapitre de la Sainte-Chapelle, dont il était chanoine.”  Kusenberg did not, however, conclude that this work was to be identified with the lost Augustus and the Tiburtine Sibyl.  Lebel, 1937, 30, related the lost cartoon to Caron’s painting in the Louvre, stating in regard to Vasari’s description of it, “c’est précisement la donnée exacte de notre tableau [by Caron] en substituant Henri III et Catherine de Médicis à François Ier et à la reine, et cela à trente ans de distance.”  The influence of Rosso’s cartoon on Caron’s painting was again stated by Lebel, “Antoine Caron,” 1937, 324-325.  This influence was accepted by Jean Adhémar, “Antoine Caron et son influence,” Médecine de France, XX, 1951, 28, n. 13.  Adhémar, Dessin, 1954, 105 (1955, 104), suggested that Vasari was mistaken and was actually speaking of Caron’s painting.  Béguin, 1960, 43, 88, believed Caron’s painting was probably inspired by Rosso’s lost work.  Béguin, in EdF, 1972, 32, 35, under no. 34, with full bibliography on Caron’s painting, again stated that Rosso’s work without doubt influenced Caron’s painting.

The print that Herbet thought was related to Rosso’s lost work is specifically based on a composition by Parmigianino.3  It is Caron’s painting in the Louvre that has most seriously and continuously been thought to be closely dependent on Rosso’s lost cartoon.4  Lebel, 1937, 32, claimed to recognize Henri III in the distance at the left and Catherine de’Medici in the middle distance near the center, which would be substitutes for Francis I and his queen in Rosso’s cartoon.  Then in the center and left foreground would be recognized the “guardia” mentioned by Vasari, and across the middle distance, “il popolo.”  The painting has been dated around 1562-1563 and, because of its costumes, around 1575-1580, that is, between twenty and forty years after Rosso’s death, and one might suppose that the painting’s extensive space and the wide spacing of its figures and architecture are dependent on an interpretation of Rosso’s scene as would be possible at this time, for there are no works by Rosso that show these characteristics.  Nor is the architecture in Caron’s painting anything like what appears in Rosso’s works.  The graceful figures, also, bear no resemblance to Rosso’s generally more complexly postured and more diversely characterized ones.  It might also be questioned that the lost cartoon showing the king and the queen would have been described to Vasari as having these figures if they were so insignificant as the supposed royal figures are in Caron’s painting.

Lebel, 1940, 12-17, showed how Caron’s painting is related to a Mystery Play that was first performed in Rouen in 1474, but also in Paris in 1553, 1575, and 1580, and in which appeared three officers with Augustus: Jedebos, Joab, and Elnathan.  These apparently would be the three men in the left foreground of Caron’s painting.  Lebel (1937, 30-33, and 1940, 323-324) also related the setting of the scene to the settings in other works by Caron, to the festival architecture that Caron would have been responsible for, and to contemporary French architecture.  All of these sources can account for the style of the setting of Caron’s painting without recourse to Rosso’s lost cartoon.  But Lebel, 1937, 29-30, did indicate that while the subject of Augustus and the Sibyl is not unusual in French art, the composition of Caron’s painting is unlike any other.  This, however, does not require that its uniqueness is due to Rosso rather than to Caron’s own inventiveness, for Caron’s painting is, indeed, very much like his own other works, none of which seems to be related to Rosso’s art.

Although it is possible that Caron’s painting bears some relation to Rosso’s painting, at least in regard to the depiction of “la guardia, e il popolo,” on the basis of its style, its composition, and its details, the Louvre painting cannot be recognized as giving serious evidence of the appearance of Rosso’s lost cartoon.  It might also be suggested that any similarity that Rosso’s cartoon and Caron’s painting might seem to have through Vasari’s description is due to Rosso himself having been inspired by another performance of the same mystery play that Caron knew, or the text of it, and which required “la guardia, e il popolo” as part of its cast.

Vasari mentioned only the cartoon of Rosso’s Augustus and the Tiburtine Sibyl and it is reasonable to conclude, therefore, that as it survived Rosso was still working on this project when he died.  Vasari did not say for whom the cartoon was made.  But in the first edition of the Lives he said that Rosso “Fece ancora un cartone per fare una tavola alla Congregazione del capitolo, dove era canonico” (see L.57), but he did not give the subject of that work.  It is very possible that this cartoon was the same one as that of the Augustus and the Tiburtine Sibyl and that its composition, invented late in 1537 or early in 1538, was to be painted in Notre Dame on a wall above the “autel des ardents” at the back of the sanctuary behind the high altar (see L.54-L.56).

There are four wall areas above the “autel des ardents” on which this painting could have been executed.  At the ground and gallery levels there are the walls above the large arches of the chevet.  At the gallery level there is also the smaller wall area above and between the smaller arches under the large arch.  Then at the very top of the church is a triangular vault.  Given these locations on the central axis of the church, Rosso’s composition may have been a more symmetrical one than that of Caron’s picture.  The vision could have been in the center with Augustus and the Sibyl on one side and Francis I and his queen on the other both looking up at the Virgin and Child.  Such a visionary scene would have been appropriate on a vault above the heads of the spectators.


1 Franklin, 1994, 211, mentioned Vasari’s description that the picture had royal portraits.

2 Herbet, V, 1902, 61 (1969, 213), 5, Anonymous, School of Fontainebleau, 29 x 22.1, as in the style of Parmigianino, according to Robert-Dumesnil (1838, no. 34; 1862, no. 143), but perhaps after Rosso’s cartoon that Vasari said was found after his death.  LITERATURE: Lebel, 1937, 30, and Lebel, “Antoine Caron,” 1937, 319, Fig. 7, 325, as more like Nicolò dell’Abate than Parmigianino.The etching is based on a composition by Parmigianino by whom several drawings related to it are known; there are also two chiaroscuro woodcuts of the composition by Antonio da Trento and Gian Niccolò Vicentino (see Popham, 1971, I, Fig. 24 [Antonio da Trento], 142-143, no. 398 [Paris] and no. 595 [Turin], 229-230, no. 802 [Homeless], and 253, O.R. 68 [facsimile], II, Pls. 126-127).  A print of the same subject and as after Parmigianino appears in Heinecken, III, 1789, 138, 76, as Bonasone.

3 One might also mention the painting of around 1600 by Jean de Hoey that shows only the figures of Augustus and the Sibyl, half length, with a herm of Hercules in the background, but stylistically the picture does not recall Rosso’s art; see André de Hevesy, “Le premier garde des peintures du roi de France,” GdBA, 6e per., XXXVII, 1950, 59-60, and Fig. 4.

4 Ragghianti, 1972, 70, n. 26, attributed the painting to the studio of Caron.  Popham (Popham and Wilde, 1949, 184, no. 52, and Fig. 19) and Blunt, 1953, 108, n. 64 (1957, 254, n. 65), thought Caron’s painting was related to a composition attributed to Nicolò dell’Abate, but this Augustus and the Sibyl is by Federico Zuccaro (see J.A. Gere, “Two of Taddeo Zuccaro’s last commissions, completed by Federico Zuccaro.  I: The Pucci Chapel in S. Trinità dei Monti,” BM, CVIII, 1966, 286-289, and Figs. 3, 6).  Raggio, 1974, 76, believed the picture shows a direct knowledge of Florentine painting of the generation of such artists as Piero di Cosimo.