The Sibyl would appear to be a relatively early work by Creti, dateable to the first decade of the 18th Century. Its composition corresponds rather closely to the Cleopatra formerly in the Hercolani Fava Simonetti collection (fig. 1), which Renato Roli dated to the early 1700s.1 The Cleopatra, in turn, relates to a figure at the extreme left of one of the artist’s most famous pictures, the Alexander the Great threatened by his Father in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC (inv. 1961.9.6), which has been given a likely dating of 1700-1705. Thus, the present painting should date to about the same moment in the young artist’s career, the opening years of the new century.
Such a dating would also fit with the early provenance of the painting. Count Pietro Ercole Fava (1667/9-1744) was a member of one of the most important aristocratic families of Bologna which had a long history of supporting the arts. He was also a talented dilettante painter,2 and a close friend of Donato Creti, who had studied with him in the studio of Lorenzo Pasinelli. Fava and his father, Alessandro, would become early supporters of Creti, and in fact in the posthumous inventory of Pietro Ercole, drawn up in 1745 by the artist himself, there are listed over 100 paintings by Creti, as well as numerous drawings. The first room of the inventory, the “Camera Dipinta dall’Albani” contained a number of works by the artist. The second one listed, directly after the Alexander now in Washington, is a “Donna con turbante che legge, in mezza figura, con cornice dorata, del Creti."3 The painting was valued by Creti at 50 Bolognese lire, more than the Cleopatra mentioned above. While the inventory contains no measurements for the paintings, the reverse of the frame of the present painting bears a brand and an inscription which ties the painting to the Fava family (figs. 1 and 2).
We are grateful to Prof. Daniele Benati who has confirmed the attribution to Creti based on photographs.
1. R. Roli, Donato Creti, 1967, p. 92.
2. Both Giampietro Zannetti and Luigi Crespi considered him important enough to devote biographies to him.
3. “Woman with a turban who is reading, half length, with a gilt frame, by Creti.” Cf. Campori, op. cit., p. 603
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