Master to Master: The Nelson Shanks Collection

Master to Master: The Nelson Shanks Collection

View full screen - View 1 of Lot 115. A sybil in a white turban.

Francesco del Cairo

A sybil in a white turban

Auction Closed

January 27, 08:24 PM GMT


80,000 - 120,000 USD

Lot Details


Francesco del Cairo

Milan 1607 - 1665

A sybil in a white turban

oil on canvas

canvas: 25 1/2 by 19 3/4 in.; 64.2 by 50.2 cm.

framed: 32 3/4 by 27 3/4 in.; 83.2 by 70.5 cm.

Possibly Filippo III Colonna (1760-1718), Rome, by 1783;
Barberini collection, Rome, by 1870, and sold in 1935;
There acquired by a private collector;
By whom anonymously sold, New York, Doyle, 16 May 2001, lot 188 (as Italian School, 17th century);
There acquired.
Possibly, E. Safarik et al., "The Colonna Collection of Paintings Inventories 1611-1795," in Italian Inventories II, Monaco, New Providence, London and Paris 1996, p. 664, no. 847 (as an anonymous portrait of Beatrice Cenci's mother);
X. Barbier de Montualt, Les Museés et Galeries de Rome, Rome 1870 (as by Caravaggio);
V. Golzio, Il Palazzo Barberini e la sua Galleria, Rome 1925, p. 74 (as by Caravaggio);
M. Gregori, "Alcuni aspetti del Genovesino," in Paragone, 59, 1954, p. 27, note 2 (as by the Maestro della Buona Ventura);
M. Gregori (ed.), Il Morazzone, exhibition catalogue, Varese 1962, p. 114 (as by the Maestro della Buona Ventura);
M. Gregori, "Contribuito per un'analisi del percorso di Francesco Cairo," in Francesco Cairo 1607 - 1665, exhibition catalogue, Milan 1983, pp. 21-22, reproduced p. 21 (as La cosiddetta Beatrice Cenci);
L. Basso, "Precisazoni su Franceso Cairo," Ph.D. diss., Università Cattolica, Milan 1983-84, pp. 78-79, cat. no. 22;
P. Rosenberg (ed.), Catalogue de la donation Othon Kaufman et François Schlageter au Département de peintures, Musée du Louvre, Paris 1984, p. 80;
O. Menegaux, in Répertoire, 1988, p. 67;
F. Frangi, Francesco Cairo, Turin 1998, pp. 249-250, cat. no. 39, reproduced fig. 43.

This painting confused scholars for centuries before being returned to the oeuvre of Francesco del Cairo in the last 40 years. First recorded in the 1783 inventory of the collection of Filippo III Colonna in Rome, the picture was catalogued as an anonymous portrait of Beatrice Cenci's mother, though there is nothing to support that identification of the sitter. No longer visible, a column symbol and an old inventory number of 22 in the lower left corner placed the canvas in the Colonna collection. It next belonged to the Barberini family in Rome, where Barbier de Montualt attributed it to Caravaggio. The Barberini sold it along with much of their collection in 1935, and it remained in private hands until Nelson Shanks bought it as an anonymous Italian artist in 2001, although Mina Gregori had correctly recognized it as Del Cairo in 1983. The canvas likely dates to the mid-to-late 1630s while Del Cairo was in Rome. The strong chiaroscuro of the figure emerging from the black background and the lively brushstrokes that define the edges of the white turban and brown dress encapsulate his technique in this period.

The Shanks painting depicts a sybil rather than any identifiable figure, and it is closely related to an octagonal composition in the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Strasbourg, which depicts a similarly turbaned woman with a small child (previously thought to represent Hagar and Ishmael).1 Both the Shanks painting and the Strasbourg painting have been copied many times, suggesting this subject was popular in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. 

1. Oil on octagonal canvas, 70.5 by 71 cm. Inv. 44.987.3.2. Frangi 1998, cat. no. 40.