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Aeneas and the Sybil in the Underworld: M.7-1945

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Object information

Current Location: Gallery 32 (Rothschild)


Aeneas and the Sybil in the Underworld


Enameller: The Master of the Aeneid Series




Copper, enamelled in polychrome and gilded with a scene showing Aeneas and the Cumaean Sybil in the Underworld.

Slightly convex copper plaque, enamelled in translucent greyish-blue, dark blue, green, mulberry-brown and clear appearing tan, and in semi-translucent pinkish-red, and opaque white and profusely gilded. There is a white preparation under the areas enamelled in greyish-blue, white and pale red. The drawing appears black on the copper or the white preparation. The translucent colours are applied directly over the copper (clearly visible where there is loss of enamel on the edge and elsewhere under magnification). Water is represented by a thin wash of translucent greyish-blue over the dark and white layers with enlevage to produce black wavy lines. The reverse has brownish translucent counter-enamel, tinged here and there with green.
The Cumaean Sybil, labelled '(SY)BILLA', and Aeneas, labelled 'ENEAS', stand in the top left corner. At top centre is a label 'I.ET.VII' beside the bell-tower of a flaming tripple-walled castle with a green many-headed Hydra guarding its gates which occupies the top left corner.Outside the walls there is a man bound to a waterwheel, and three men's heads emerging from a mill pond. On the wall above the wheel is a label inscribed 'TI.ION' (?ILION - Troy). Below Aeneas is a label inscribed 'TISIPHONE' beneath which she and another Fury holding snakes, are beating four almost nude men bound to a tree, and another man who leans forward over a devil who is stabbing two men lying on the ground. Below to the right are two men prone, one upwards and one downwards, on a bed of nails, and further to the right, three being cooked in a cauldron attended by a green devil. In the middle, Rhadamanthus, labelled 'FASAMANI9', robed and holding a sceptre, sits on a stool, and behind him on the ground, is a seated man with his right arm raised. A gold chain divides these figures from those below. In the lower left corner, a young man is seated at a table covered by a white cloth and laid for a meal. A bird with a female head stands opposite to him on the table. In the middle three men are seated on the ground , two of them holding a jug. In the lower right corner is a label inscribed 'TITVS' over a vulture which is pecking the thorax of Tityus, who is encircled by a gold chain. Gold is used lavishly for the hair of the figures, outlining of features, and shading.


History note: Possibly a late 18th century sale in Amsterdam; unidentified owner; H. Wareham Harding, London, from whom purchased by the Friends of the Fitzwilliam Museum

Legal notes

Given by the Friends of the Fitzwilliam Museum

Measurements and weight

Height: 22.4 cm
Width: 20 cm

Relative size of this object

20 cm22.4 cm What does this represent?

Relative size of this object is displayed using code inspired by Good Form and Spectacle's work on the British Museum's Waddeson Bequest website and their dimension drawer. They chose a tennis ball to represent a universally sized object, from which you could envisage the size of an object.

Place(s) associated

  • Limoges ⪼ Haute Vienne ⪼ France

Acquisition and important dates

Method of acquisition: Given (1945-06-15) by The Friends of the Fitzwilliam Museum


Second quarter of 16th century
François I
Circa 1527 CE - 1530 CE


Neither the patron nor the original situation of the plaques has been discovered. It seems possible that they were set into the panelling in a collector's cabinet or study, as in the often cited ‘cabinet des émaulx’ in Catherine de Medici’s, hôtel in the rue de Grenelle, Paris, where the inventory after her decease mentioned ‘Trent neuf petit tableau d’émail de Limoges en form ovale enchassez dans le lambris au dict cabinet’.

The Master of the Aeneid Plaques has remained an enigma, although some scholars have considered that he might have been Jean I Pénicaud. Very few other enamels have been attributed to him on the basis of features which occur in the Aeneid plaques, such as a distinctive way of rendering clouds. These including a Crucifixion after Lucas van Leyden in the Victoria & Albert Museum inv. no. 2820-1926, a Crucifixion after Dürer. formerly in the Givenchy Collection (see Documention, Descheemaecker), and an Adoration of the Magi acquired by the Musée municipal de l’Évêché, Limoges in 2006, which has a leaf of silver over the entire surface beneath the enamelling.

The iconography follows Vergil's description, but Pirithoüs, the King of the Lapiths (lower left corner), who was unable to move after sitting down in the Underworld, appears more like Tantalus, who was usually assigned the punishment of being surrounded by food and drink but unable to assuage his thirst or hunger. Below the city walls (top right), the figure tied to a wheel is probably Ixion who was crucified on a wheel by Zeus as punishment for attempting to rape Hera. The enameller did not follow the woodcut exactly. The entrails and liver of Tityus (lower right corner) are not shown as they are in the woodcut. The anatomy of the almost nude figures is more rounded and realistic, and the Fury, Tisiphone, wears a small crown instead of a cap.

This is one of a series of eighty-three recorded plaques each decorated with a different scene after the woodcut illustrations to Books I to IX of the Aeneid in Sebastian Brandt's edition of Virgil's 'Opera', printed by Johann Grüninger in Strasburg in 1502 (a copy is in the Cambridge University Library, Tb.51.61). Or, possibly, from editions with the same woodcuts published at Lyon by Jacob Saccon in 1517 and by Jean Crespin in 1529. The series was probably the earliest example of classical subjects on Limoges enamels, and was the largest group of plaques with a coherent theme derived from the same source. The subject on this plaque is from Book VI, and was copied from the woodcut which appears on fol. 274 recto of the 1502 edition. It shows Aeneas with the Cumaen Sibyl who was guiding him through the Underworld to see his father, Anchises, when they reached a point where the path divided, one branch leading to Elysium, and the other to Tartarus where various souls are being judged and tormented. For listings of the other Aeneid plaques, see Documentation.

School or Style


People, subjects and objects depicted

Components of the work

Decoration composed of enamels ( translucent greyish-blue, dark blue, green, mulberry-brown and clear appearing tan, and in semi-translucent pinkish-red, and opaque white; clear counter enamel) gold
Plaque composed of copper

Inscription or legends present

Inscription present: first two letters of name are missing

  • Text: (SY)BILLA
  • Location: On front
  • Method of creation: Painted in black enamel
  • Type: Inscription
  • Text: ENEAS
  • Location: On front
  • Method of creation: Painted in black enamel
  • Text: I·ET·VII
  • Location: On front, top centre
  • Method of creation: Painted in black enamel
  • Type: Inscription
  • Text: TI·ION
  • Location: On front
  • Method of creation: Painted in black enamel
  • Type: Inscription
  • Location: On front
  • Method of creation: Painted in black enamel
  • Type: Inscription
  • Text: SALMONE
  • Location: On front
  • Method of creation: Painted in black enamel
  • Type: Inscription
  • Text: FASAMANI9
  • Location: On front
  • Method of creation: Painted in black enamel
  • Type: Inscription
  • Text: TITVS
  • Location: On front
  • Method of creation: Painted in black enamel
  • Type: Inscription

References and bibliographic entries

Identification numbers

Accession number: M.7-1945
Primary reference Number: 118320
Stable URI

Audit data

Created: Saturday 6 August 2011 Updated: Wednesday 19 January 2022 Last processed: Thursday 20 January 2022

Associated departments & institutions

Owner or interested party: The Fitzwilliam Museum
Associated department: Applied Arts

Citation for print

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The Fitzwilliam Museum (2023) "Aeneas and the Sybil in the Underworld" Web page available at: Accessed: 2023-01-27 02:41:57

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