The Libyan Sibyl: Michelangelo’s masterpiece

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In 1508, charged by Pope Julius II, the world-famous painter Michelangelo, whom would later be considered one of the greatest and most renowned painters and sculptors in all history, began the magnificent work of adorning the Sistine Chapel ceiling in the Vatican. Day after day, month after month and year after year, Michaelangelo spent four entire years with his brushes and chisel, and his mind and imagination decorating the church’s ceiling. He described his efforts and travails saying:

My beard points skyward,

at my nape the store of memory dangles,

I’ve grown a harpy’s breast,
and from above, my dripping brush, for jest,
transforms my face into a mosaic floor
.’

In 1512, after four years of labour, Michelangelo completed his work. The world would have to stand in awe forever at the innovation and artistry which Michelangelo had ignited, at the ability of his mind and imagination to reduce meanings and stories into pictures and drawings, at the ability of his brush and chisel to translate what is in his mind into paintings and inscriptions that anyone could enjoy and wander in their details and tales with a mere look towards the ceiling of the church which has always stood as a testimony to the magnificence of the arts at the peak of the renaissance.

Michelangelo had painted on the church’s ceiling the story of the creation since the beginning of time until Noah’s (PBUH) flood, inspired by Genesis and The Old Testament, materialising them through hundreds of paintings of holy characters in the old beliefs, including the Libyan sibyl ‘Libica’.

Dr.Eiyad Abubakr Hashim says: “The Libyan Sybil is one of the parts of this huge painting which has become the marvel of the centuries to come, well-known to all people across the world even though it had been painted over five hundred years ago. The Libyan sibyl was one of the sibyls that prophesized Jesus according to Christian tradition. The Persian sybil appeared as the epitome of hideousness and ugliness having reached her final days, face-wrinkled and weak-sighted, while the Cumaean Sibyl appeared muscular with a hideous exhausted face. The Erythraean and Delphic sibyls appeared well and beautiful. The Libyan sibyl appeared to have gained the artist’s wonderful attention as he singled out many preliminary and final anatomical drawings, according to its position amongst the remaining characters in the painting.

To be displayed as one of the most superb and beautiful parts of this great painting, Michelangelo painted this Libyan lady as one of five sibyls with measurements of approximately 3.6m height and 1.4m width. She was shown holding a huge book almost falling from her or in the moment of closing it in a wonderful side motion of the finest beauty and splendidness, wearing a loose-fitting colorful outfit, draped with a garment most of which is on her chair, green and soft in harmony with her body’s movement and balance, reflecting reverence and beautiful heritage, expressive of mysterious secrets reminiscent of the Libyan man’s contributions that spread east and west, north and south carrying his great abilities in all walks of life creating and establishing human civilizations across the ages.”      

On the rituals of ancient Libyans in clairvoyance and divination, archaeologist and historian Oric Bates in his book The Eastern Libyans says:

It has been noted that in Roman times the native Africans were reputed to be versed in astrology. Other forms of divination were also in vogue, though information in regard to the details of the pro-cesses is unhappily lacking. As in the rest of Africa, and, for the matter of that, as among most of the primitive peoples of the world, the diviner was probably in most cases a woman

Oric Bates continues: “at Augila, the manes of the dead were held to be divinities; the people swore by them, and consulted them as oracles. The grave was visited, the spirit invoked and told what was the wish of the votary, who then slept at the spot and was answered in his dreams.”

wwwwThe Libyan sibyl on the left, amongst the other sibyls painted by Michelangelo

 

ليبياPostage stamps painted in Libya during the Italian colonial period, displaying the Libyan sibyl as painted by Michelangelo

 

References:

The Eastern Libyans, Oric Bates

Greek and Roman Mythology / Kathleen N. Daly

An article by Dr.Abubakr Hashim

Michelangelo – Life and Work,

 

 

 

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