The Cumaean Sibyl occupied a cave complex above Lake Avernus, near Naples, and was highly respected in antiquity as an oracle of Apollo. In Virgil’s Aeneid, Aeneas consults the sibyl to seek guidance on his destiny after abandoning Dido in Carthage. J. M.W. Turner shows Aeneas sacrificing to Apollo before receiving the god’s answer through the sibyl. Dissatisfied, Aeneas then asks the sibyl to let him go down to Hades to speak with his dead father. This picture was made for Sir Richard Colt Hoare, the antiquarian and amateur artist who owned the celebrated landscape garden at Stourhead in Wiltshire, which was designed to evoke the ideal Italianate landscapes that Turner emulated in this painting. Since Turner did not visit Italy until 1819, Hoare supplied Turner with his own sketches of the landscape at Cumae. Hoare intended to pair Turner’s painting with Lake Nemi with Diana and Callisto (1758) by Richard Wilson, which was already at Stourhead.
Gallery label for installation of YCBA collection, 2022