Although the name of the sitter in this portrait remains a mystery, the choice to depict her as a sibyl—a group of learned, pagan prophetesses who foretold the coming of Jesus—demonstrates values about gender and learning in 17th-century Bologna. Taking on the allegorical guise of learned women from literary sources like the Bible was a coded strategy for women in early modern Europe to convey not only personal scholary achievement but further underscored the importance of education for women among elite families. The choice of painter Guido Reni to depict this woman in a bejeweled turban also reveals an affinity for the foreign and exotic that was fashionable at the time.


  • Title: Portrait of a Lady as a Sibyl
  • Creator: Guido Reni
  • Date Created: circa 1640
  • Physical Dimensions: Canvas/Support Dimensions: 74.9 x 63.5 cm, Canvas/Support Dimensions: 29 1/2 x 25 in
  • Type: paintings
  • Medium: oil on canvas

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