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Work The Sibyl of Cumae Leading Aeneas to the Underworld

Department of Prints and Drawings: 17th century

Enée conduit par la sibylle de Cumes aux Enfers

Prints and Drawings
17th century

Chabod Christine

Claude Lorrain sets this journey of initiation against the poetic backdrop of southern Italy, in a landscape bathed by the light of the setting sun. The sense of melancholy generated by the soft, iridescent light lends a depth and gravity to the scene, reminding us that the drawing dates from the last years of the artist's life.

A voyage of initiation

This drawing illustrates one of the best known and most frequently portrayed episodes from Virgil's Aeneid (Book VI, 260-263). In a landscape bathed by the light of the setting sun, the Sibyl of Cumae leads Aeneas into the forest concealing the entry to Hades. Relinquishing for a time the bright world above, the hero - the embodiment of the human soul - embarks on a voyage of initiation: guided by Wisdom in the form of the Sibyl, he discovers in the Underworld the vices he must avoid if he is to gain admission to the Elysian Fields. In the background can be seen the Bay of Naples, a frequent presence in the painter's late works and doubtless a memory of his stay in that city circa 1616-17.

Virgil or Tasso?

This is a preparatory drawing for Lorrain's painting of Aeneas and the Sibyl of Cumae, one of a series of four works commissioned by Prince Paolo Francesco Falconieri and executed between 1666 and 1673. The painting is now lost, but its composition is known from Drawing 183 of Claude's Liber Veritatis. This study features the same composition as the canvas, with several variations: the two figures are set closer to the center of the scene, the view towards the horizon is broader, and a round temple is visible to the right. The drawing is part of a series of five whose iconography leaves some doubt as to the artist's literary source: some commentators identify the scene as an illustration of a poem by Tasso, while others believe it adheres more closely to the text from Virgil. The central theme - a voyage of initiation - remains unchanged.


D. H. Russell, Claude Gellée dit le Lorrain, 1600-1682, exhibition catalogue, Washington, National Gallery of Art, Paris, Galeries nationales du Grand Palais, 1982-1983, no. 66 p. 279
J.-F. Méjanès, in Dessin français du XVIIe siècle. 83rd exhibition at the Cabinet des dessins, exhibition catalogue, Paris, Musée du Louvre, 1984-1985, no. 86
Le dessin à Rome au XVIIe siècle. 91st exhibition at the Cabinet des Dessins, exhibition catalogue, Paris, Musée du Louvre, 1988, no. 75
J.-F. Méjanès, in Le Paysage en Europe du XVIe au XVIIIe siècle : 95th exhibition at the Cabinet des dessins, exhibition catalogue, Paris, Musée du Louvre, 1990, no. 27
J.-F. Méjanès, in Des mécènes par milliers : un siècle de dons par les Amis du Louvre. exhibition catalogue Paris, Musée du Louvre, 1997, no. 265

Technical description

  • Claude Gellée, also known as Claude Lorrain (Chamagne 1600 - Rome 1682)

    The Sibyl of Cumae Leading Aeneas to the Underworld

    Circa 1673

  • Pen and sepia ink, brown wash, grey wash, white highlights, preliminary under-drawing in black chalk, on beige paper

    H. 25.3 cm; W. 35.5 cm

  • Don de la Société des Amis du Louvre en 1920

    RF 4586

  • Prints and Drawings

    Due to their fragility, works on paper are not on permanent display in the museum.

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See the related mini-site Claude Lorrain: The Draftsman Studying Nature