Opaque glass mosaic, designed by William Blake Richmond, executed by Messrs Powell of Whitefriars, completed by 1896

The Sibyls, female prophets of the ancient world, made predictions relevant to Christian belief, and are therefore at time included in religious cycles, most famously Michelangelo’s frescoes for Sistine Chapel, Vatican, painted 1508-1512. William Blake Richmond chose the Persian and the Delphic Sibyl for the group of twelve Biblical and historic figures shown on either side of the clerestory windows; they are the only women depicted in this series.

The Delphic Sibyl provided the prophecies at the famous ancient oracle of Delphi, Greek, believed to the centre of the world. The oracle was part of a sanctuary dedicated to the ancient Greek god Apollo who spoke to his priestess, the Sibyl. In Richmond’s mosaic he is depicted in the classical tradition as young, athletic man in the nude.

Brief description: the Sibyl depicted seated in a white tunic and gold-orange hooded, patterned cloak, a scroll on her lap; she is approached from above from a young male figure, nude with the exception of a blue cloth; in the background parts of a temple in Doric order visible, inscribed “DELPHICA”, golden background, along the base of the mosaic a border with a pattern of spotted stags and trees in black and red against a golden background

Related quotes:

Browne 1896, pp. 13-14: “Beginning with the eastern bay, and keeping for the present to the north side, the figure to the east of the window is the Delphic Sibyl, with the world Delphica. The revelation is represented as brought by a wingless human figure […] All the details of the robes of the Sibyls, and of the architectural and other features of the composition are exceedingly rich. The effect produced by the intentional roughness and irregularities of the setting of the tesserae, and the variations of the angle at which they are set, is very striking, whether the spectator is close at hand or far off. Below the window [destroyed during the Second World War] are the inscriptions O sapientia veni ad docendum nos, O Oriens splendour veni et illumina nos, ‘O Wisdom come and teach us, O splendour of the East, com and enlighten us.’ These are portions of ancient Antiphone to the Magnificat for December 16 and 20.”

Literature and references: Browne 1893, pp. 13-14.


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