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Augustus and the Sibyl

Photo credit: The National Gallery, London

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An elderly bearded man kneels in a landscape, gazing up at the Virgin Mary and Christ Child who float in the sky. Behind him a rather astonished-looking young woman throws up her hands. This is the Emperor Augustus' encounter with the sibyl, a pagan prophetess.

According to medieval legend, on the day of Christ’s birth the Roman Emperor asked the sibyl if anyone would ever be born who would be more powerful than he was. She showed him a vision of the Virgin and Child hovering in the sky above Rome, here shown as a Renaissance city. This small panel was possibly once part of a piece of furniture.

The National Gallery, London



about 1500


Oil on wood


H 17.5 x W 38.5 cm

Accession number


Acquisition method

Layard Bequest, 1916

Work type


The National Gallery, London

Trafalgar Square, London, Greater London WC2N 5DN England

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