Backwards and in High Heels – Marcello’s Pythian Sybil

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After Napoleon I crowned himself Emperor in 1804, 

Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres; Napoléon I on His Imperial Throne, 1806; Oil on canvas; Musée de l’Armée, Paris. Ingres portrays Napoléon dressed in one of the many different robes that he wore during his coronation at Notre Dame. Every line, color, shape, pattern, texture, and the sense of space and depth is part of a compositional strategy that references famous images of various heroes and kings, including God.

abdicated in 1814 to King Louis XVIII, reigned briefly again in 1815, and 

Paul Delaroche; Napoléon à Fontainebleau, 1840; Oil on canvas; Musée de l’Armée, Paris. Alone in his private apartments one week before his first abdication, Napoléon glares at his destiny.

was banished and ultimately defeated by death in 1821,

Vincenzo Vela; Last Days of Napoléon (The Dying Napoléon), 1867; Bronze; Philadelphia Museum of Art 

his nephew, Louis Napoléon Bonaparte, led a military coup amidst the 1848 French Revolution and became the Emperor of France as Napoléon III. His reign is known as the Second Empire (r. 1852-70).

Emperor Napoléon III, Empress Eugénie de Montijo, and their son Louis-Napoléon; 1860s

Paris was overcrowded, fetid, and unsafe. The widest streets were dark, narrow passageways that wove around crumbling, old  buildings.

Charles Marville; Rue Descartes vers l’École Polytechnique, c. 1865; Albumen silver print; Philadelphia Museum of Art 

Charles Marville; Rue de la Bûcherie (from the cul de sac Saint-Ambroise, fifth arrondissement), 1866–1868; Albumen print from collodion negative 

The trickle of shimmering liquid on the paving stones isn’t water. The streets of Old Paris were infamously filthy and frequently full of raw sewage. One writer observed that “a stream of black mire constantly runs through many of the streets . . . . often becoming a rapid torrent. It requires no inconsiderable agility to leap across it, and the driver of the cabriolet delights in plentifully splattering its black and disgusting contents on every unfortunate pedestrian.”  National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C. 

In 1853, Napoléon III appointed Georges-Eugène Haussmann to transform Paris from a medieval into a modern city.

Hubert Ponscarme; Street Scene with Napoléon III and Baron Haussmann, c. 1866; Cast bronze; Philadelphia Museum of Art

Haussmann demolished the muddle of medieval neighborhoods and cut wide, straight, tree-lined avenues to improve traffic flow. Sidewalks were widened to accommodate café tables, gas lamps, and trees. Hundreds of fountains were rebuilt or relocated to improve the quality of drinking water, wash the streets, provide water for the parks and gardens, and ornament the city. He connected the train terminals, constructed aqueducts and sewers, built parks and gardens, installed gas pipelines, and annexed the suburbs around Paris to enlarge the city’s footprint. 


Charles Marville, c. 1860s; one of the cour des miracles (court of miracles, a French term for the impoverished areas of Paris). This area, near the Rue Réaumur, served as inspiration for Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables and The Hunchback of Notre-Dame.


Photo by Patrice de Moncan, c. 2008

The term horror vacui, Latin for the “fear of empty space,” has been used to describe the architectural design and décor of the Second Empire – 

a profuse, abundant, exuberant, eclectic, sumptuous, and opulent mix of mirrors, candelabras, sconces, chandeliers; upholstered furniture embellished with tassels and fringes; lacquered furniture covered with flower bouquets; and

Grand Salon, Napoleon III Apartments, Musée de Louvre

mahogany and ebony inlaid with porcelain, pearl, and ivory, gold-plating, metalwork, tortoiseshell and metal marquetry. 

After a design by André-Charles Boulle; Chest of Drawers, (one of a pair), c. 1715 with later additions; Brass and tortoiseshell veneer, gilded bronze mounts, marble top; Philadelphia Museum of Art

After Napoléon III survived an assassination attempt outside the entrance to the opera house, he launched a competition in 1861 to select an architect to construct a new imperial music and dance academy for the ballet and opera performances that had a more secure entrance. Almost two hundred architects applied; ultimately, Charles Garnier was selected. Once the site for the new theater was chosen, Haussmann began to construct the Avenue de l’Opéra, which directly connected Napoléon III’s palace to the new opera house.

Avenue de l’Opéra; Photos by Charles Marville






Camille Pissarro; Avenue de l’Opéra: Morning Sunshine; Oil on canvas; Philadelphia Museum of Art

The new theater, now known as the Palais Garnier or Opéra Garnier, was the most expensive building constructed in Paris during the Second Empire. As the setting for Gaston Leroux’s 1910 novel, The Phantom of the Opera, it also became one of the most famous opera houses in the world. True to the Second Empire style, theatrical extravagance extends well beyond the stage. 

Charles Garnier, second from the right, in the drafting room while designing the new opera house, c. 1870; Metropolitan Museum of Art

For example, there are three different entrances:

one private entrance for Napoleon III (who died in exile in England by the time the opera house opened in 1875),

one for the abonnés (subscribers, season ticket holders), the Pavillon des Abonnés, 

and one for everybody else. 

Inside, opulent corridors, stairwells, alcoves, and landings were designed to encourage large numbers of people to socialize before and after the performance as well as during the intermission. 

When the Opéra opened in 1875, fourteen years after construction started and way over budget, it was the world’s largest theatre and opera house. Guests who attended the lavish opening night gala included the King of Spain. During the intermission, Garnier stepped out onto the landing of the grand staircase to accept the admiring applause of the audience. 

Édouard Detaille; Inauguration of the Paris Opéra, 5 January 1875; Collections of the Château Versailles

Garnier’s opulent opera house provided commissions for some of the most renowned artists of the time. Almost all of the fifteen painters and seventy-five sculptors who were chosen by him to decorate the exterior and interior of the Opéra had trained at one of the government-funded art academies in Paris. The system for training artists traced back to the 1600s and two-hundred years later, still held tremendous power over an artist’s career. Instructors dictatorially determined how students would be taught, which art works deserved to be exhibited, and what styles of art would be sanctioned by royal and other wealthy patrons. Its best students, which included Garnier, were awarded the Prix de Rome, a prestigious scholarship that allowed them to study classical and Renaissance art and architecture in Rome for three to five years. 

The Academy set a hierarchy of subject matter for works of art based on difficulty and prestige. Depictions of the human form (especially of historical, allegorical, classical, or biblical subjects) were the most valued. Portraiture, seen as less demanding and imaginative, ranked second. Works that lacked figures (landscapes and still-lifes) were at the bottom. 

Honoré Daumier; Celebrrrrrre Jury de Peintre, 1839; Lithograph; Philadelphia Museum of Art

To successfully compete in the art market upon graduation, mastering the ability to draw the nude figure was essential. All students followed the same course of study: they began by copying drawings and engravings, progressed to drawing plaster casts to learn how to transform the three-dimensional form into two, copied large-scale sculpture, and finally were permitted to draw single-figure nude studies, known as académies, using a live nude model. 

École des Beaux-Arts; Atelier de Peintre (School of Fine Arts, Painter’s Workshop)

Eugène Delacroix’s drawing of an allegorical figure for a commission that he’d received was developed from an academic study made from a live model. Remnants of the prop that held the model’s left hand in position can be seen in the drawing. 

Eugène Delacroix; Allegorical Figure of Envy, c. 1820-1823 or c. 1849; Charcoal and graphite on tan wove paper; Philadelphia Museum of Art

Most of the artists that Garnier recruited to work on the opera house were friends whom he met while studying at the academy in Paris or later in Rome. Those who were former winners of the Prix de Rome received the most important assignments. Although artists were free to design their own works, Garnier set the subject matter, dimensions, and theme. Since they all shared a common training background, Garnier trusted them to execute the subjects in a manner that harmonized with his vision for the building’s materials, line, mass, colors, and forms.  

The system was the only game in town; it was how artists, even after graduation, found buyers, patrons, and competed for commissions. It determined his status and prospects.

Her prospects were very different: women weren’t permitted to attend the state-sponsored, tuition-free École des Beaux-Arts until 1897. 

Charles Garnier, one of the two architects on the admissions committee, vehemently opposed allowing women to study at the school and once argued that, “It’s impossible to put men and women together in the same room. It’s tantamount to placing gun powder near fire, an explosive situation that would demolish ‘Art’ altogether.” 

Another member on the committee, sculptor Eugène Guillaume (above in his studio), apparently replied, “You puerile ignoramus! You don’t know what you’re talking about. When an artist works, does he think of anything other than the project at hand? In a truly progressive school, there aren’t men or women, but simply artists, inspired by a noble and pure ideal.” 

To which Garnier retorted, “Oh great sculptor, that may be possible for you, as you’re made of marble or wood like your statues; but for me, at twenty years of age, had there been a pretty young face next to my drafting board, to hell with my drawing! Ah, Guillaume, you are not a man!” 

Guillaume responded, “Ah, Garnier, you are not an artist!”

Women who wanted to be classically trained and become professional artists had the option to either study at a private academy or under the tutelage of an established male artist; both offered a limited curriculum at a high cost. Even then, women were excluded from life-drawing classes (drawing a live, nude model), which were viewed as inappropriate and even harmful to the morals of proper young ladies. This essentially excluded women from important commissions, such as Garnier’s opera house.

Life-drawing classes remained unavailable to women until the 1870s, when it was finally offered at the studio of Charles Chaplin (the artist, not the famous comedian) and at the one private art school that accepted women, Académie Julian (the French word “académie” means private art school).

Académie Julian (1868-1939) accepted students for whom the École de Beaux-Arts was off limits, for example, those from other countries who couldn’t pass the vicious entrance examination in French and women. Although men and women trained separately, they had the same curriculum, which included drawing and painting of nude models.

Hubert Juin; Women’s Class at the Académie Julian, c. 1900; Photograph. The model appears to be wearing bathing trunks.

Sculptor Adèle d’Affry, also known as Marcello, defied the odds. 

Born in 1836 into a Swiss noble family, her father died when she only six, leaving her twenty-five-year-old mother to rear two young daughters. Luckily, the young widow had financial means and the two girls received an education that was equal to young men in their social class. Adèle began to study art at the age of nine with a local artist and then as a teenager, was sent to France and Germany to study landscape painting and watercolor – appropriate pastimes for young women who might use these skills later in life to amuse their future children. 

At age seventeen, while visiting Rome, d’Affry became inspired by Michelangelo’s sculpture. Although the life of a sculptor was seen as too masculine, messy, noisy, and physically demanding for women, she began to take lessons from Heinrich Maximilian Imhof, a Swiss-born sculptor who was working in Rome. 

There, the nineteen-year-old fell in love with and married Don Carlo Colonna, the Duke of Castiglione-Colonna. After their honeymoon, the couple settled in Paris but sadly, he contracted typhoid and passed away. They’d only been married eight months.

Johann-Friedrich Dietler; Portrait of Adèle d’Affry (age seventeen), 1853; Watercolor; Fondation Marcello, Fribourg

Now a twenty-year old widow and the Duchesse Castiglione-Colonna, Adèle returned to Rome and Imhof’s studio, this time with the intent to become a professional artist. Next, in Paris, she studied animal drawing at the Natural History Museum under the supervision of sculptor Antoine-Louis Barye. She also received permission to attend the cadaver dissections that were held in the School of Medicine – as long as she dressed like a man. In 1861, she applied to study at the Académie, but was rejected because of the ”disrobing of the male models” and “open conversations on art, politics, nudity, sex, society are unfitting for the eyes and ears of a woman.”

Adèle Colonna; Sketch of a detail from Michelangelo’s Last Judgement in the Sistine Chapel in Rome, c. 1859; Fondation Marcello, Fribourg

The earliest-known sculptures by the Duchess Colonna are companion pieces, busts of her late husband and a self-portrait. Both were made between 1857-59, around the time she was studying under Imhof in Rome. (Fondation Marcello, Fribourg).  

When a sculptor focuses on just the head or the head and neck, it is called a portrait. When parts of the shoulder and chest are included, it’s called a bust

In 1863, D’Affry submitted three busts for exhibition at the Salon, the official art exhibition of the Académie des Beaux-Arts, or School of Fine Arts, in Paris. To increase the chances that her sculptures would be taken seriously, she hid her gender from the judges and used the pseudonym Marcello, a name she appropriated from an 18th-century Venetian composer whom she admired, Benedetto Marcello. All three works were accepted. 

Bianca Capello, one of the three works that Marcello exhibited at the at the Salon of 1863, began as a portrait from memory of a woman she had observed at a wedding in Italy. She chose to title the work after an historic figure who was well-known to the public at the time through books, plays, ladies’ journals, and two operas – the scandalous, notoriously deceitful and beautiful Bianca Capello.

The influence of Michelangelo’s drawing at left of Zenobia, Queen of Palmyra (1503, Uffizi Gallery, Florence) can be seen in Marcello’s Preparatory Drawing for the Bust of Capello (right), c. 1863; Graphite; Fondation Marcello, Fribourg.

Marcello’s note in the Salon catalogue explained: “Bianca Capello, daughter of a great Venetian family, eloped when she was eighteen with a young Florentine, taking with her the family jewels. Having found refuge in Florence, she became the mistress of Francesco de’ Medici, falsely claimed to be pregnant, got rid of her accomplices, and persuaded her lover to marry her. Having become Grand Duchess of Tuscany, Bianca Capello tried to poison her brother-in-law, Cardinal de’ Medici, but when her husband accidentally ate from the dish she prepared, she too swallowed some of it and died.” 

Marcello; Bianca Capello,1863; Marble; Fondation Marcello, Fribourg

All three works, especially Bianca Capello, were so well received by the critics and the public that soon Marcello’s true identity was revealed. Nonetheless, D’Affry continued to use her professional name throughout her career. Commissions, most notably from Empress Eugénie, followed and Marcello became a leading sculptor of portrait busts, especially of women as heroic figures. Her sculptures continued to be accepted for exhibition at the Salon. 

Michelangelo’s Head of Cleopatra (left, 1522; Casa Buonarroti, Florence) evokes the ancient Greek stories of three gorgons (gorgós, ancient Greek; means “grim, dreadful”) who were sisters: Stheno, Euryale, and Medusa. Medusa’s mass of writhing, venous snakes for hair and terrifying face turned anyone who looked at her into stone.

Marcello recalls the inventive hair style, elaborate headdress, and sinuous lines of Cleopatra in her portrait bust of The Gorgon (right: 1865; marble). Instead of portraying the mythological creature as a hideous monster, Marcello portrays Medusa as an elegant, strong woman with a long neck, sensuous lips, and a stony intimidating, powerful gaze. The wings on Medusa’s headdress allude to Pegasus, the winged horse, and his brother, Chrysaor, who were born from the drops of blood that fell from Medusa’s severed head after she was decapitated by Perseus. The abrupt end of the upper arm is a characteristic borrowed from ancient portrait busts. The Gorgon was exhibited at the Salon in 1865 in marble with added delicate gold filaments in her hair.

An art critique wrote of The Gorgon, “Who would have thought that the hand of a woman, – a fine, elegant, supple, delicate, aristocratic hand, a hand that  would seem uniquely made for handling tissue and silk – could also care marble, manage the carving tool and take up the heavy hammer of sculptors? Everyone knows, today, that the pseudonym Marcello hides the most well-liked and aristocratic of duchesses: the Duchess Colonna; and everyone looks on with astonishment at the busts she signs. We have trouble recognizing, in this strong and finely accentuated head, in these proud and animated figures, the work of a woman. It is also that, in front of a block of marble, Madam Duchess Colonna is not only a woman; she is an artist, and an artist of the first order.”

Adolphe-Jean-François Marin; Portrait of Marcello (Duchesse de Castiglione-Colonna, born Adèle d’Affry), c. 1870s; Albumen silver print; Philadelphia Museum of Art

Marcello continued to submit portrait busts of sensual and powerful female figures to the Salon. It was risky. The judges censored art works made by women if they were deemed to be too sexually suggestive. 

Marcello’s The Tired Bacchante (1869; Marble; Musée d’art et d’histoire, Fribourg) was exhibited at the Salon of 1869. A bacchante is a female follower of Bacchus, the Roman god of wine.

Thémines, an critic for the French daily conservative newspaper, La Patrie commented, “The ardent priestess, tired but not satisfied, rests herself reluctantly; the eyelids half-closed, the figure contracted, the nostrils quivering, the lips creased, the eyebrows softly knitted, she displays on her face all of the fatigue of the erotic dance and voluptuousness from which she finally delivers herself. The very vine branches of her crown fall down wilted on her streaming hair. The purists can prefer a classical head, the calm and serene Olympian of statuary; art lovers crowd around this marble that appears alive to them.” 

Marcello prepared two submissions for the 1870 Salon. 

One was the Abyssinian Chieftain.

The other was a female figure from Ancient Greece.

The sculpture’s strangely captivating beauty would catch the eye of someone who had fiercely opposed women’s right to become a professional artist,  Charles Garnier.

Gustave Courbet; Adèle d’Affry, 1869; Fondation Marcello, Fribourg

The earliest descriptions of the figure are found in several ancient texts, including Virgil’s Aeneid. Zeus, the king of the gods of Mount Olympus, in order to find the center of the world, commanded two eagles to fly in opposite directions. They converged at Delphi and Zeus’s son, Apollo, chose the site for his temple. The belief that Apollo and the other gods controlled the fate of mankind led to the practice of oracular consultation – people wanted to find out what the gods had in mind for them. For at least a thousand years, certainly by the 700s BCE and until the 300s CE, the oracular power of the Pythian sibyl, the priestess of Apollo that communicated the will of the gods to humans, was unquestioned. Individuals and emissaries from cities, states, and kingdoms from all along the Mediterranean Sea – the men who ruled the greatest empires, waged the wars, and occupied the influential positions in society – traveled thousands of miles and waited for months to years to seek an opportunity to have an audience with The Oracle of Delphi.

Those who were granted a consultation entered the Temple of Apollo and were escorted to a sacred area where the Pythia sat on Apollo’s sacred tripod. Many ancient poets wrote of the “fear and trembling” as they presented their question to the Oracle and then watched as she transformed into a vessel for the god. 

Camillo Miola; The Oracle, 1880; Oil on canvas; The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

“Now is the time to ask your destinies. It is the god. The god is here.” – The Oracle of Delphi;  From Virgil’s The Aeneid, Book 6; 19 BCE

Some texts explain that as the pneuma (breath or inspiration) of Apollo entered the Pythian sibyl (female prophet), she became overwhelmed, frenzied, transfigured, and ranted incoherently as she exhaled mystical visions. 

Others describe that the Oracle remained calm throughout and pronounced an answer in perfect dactylic hexameter (the verse form of epics).

John Collier; Priestess of Delphi, 1891; oil on canvas; Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide

Marcello’s Pythian Sibyl is untamed, erotic, sensual, and superb.  

According to the countess’s family, the idea for the figure first came to her while Marcello was caring for a dying cousin, who, while in a fevered state, rose from her bed with disheveled hair and clothes falling from her body, wildly outstretched her arms and quivered with tremors. 

For the actual pose of the figure, Marcello hired the same Italian model, Maria Latini (below left, c. 1860), that Henri Regnault used for his painting, Salomé (below right).

Henri Regnault’s Salomé debuted in the Paris salon of 1870, just several months before he was killed in the Franco-Prussian War (Oil on canvas; Metropolitan Museum of Art).

At first, The Pythian Sibyl began as a bust but then Marcello decided to enlarge the sculpture to include the figure’s entire body sitting on tripod base. Lacking access to a model who would pose for her partially nude, she made a plaster cast of her own neck, arms, shoulders, and torso to use as a model. 

Marcello; Head of a Woman (after Regnault’s Salomé), 1869; Graphite drawing; Fondation Marcello, Fribourg, Switzerland

We’re lucky. Unlike the ancient petitioners, we get to push the pause button, to suspend the Pythian sibyl in time and encircle her. As a viewer moving around a sculpture, what we see constantly changes. Our job is to explore how that further advances and refines what the artist is trying to communicate. 

Imagine you’ve entered the Temple of Apollo at Delphi and have been ushered into a dark cavern. Torches flicker light across the figures and walls. The room is small and stuffy. You only have a few minutes to absorb the sounds, the smells, and sights of a moment that you’ll remember for the rest of your life. Your story will be passed through generations of your family. 

The question you’ve submitted is so important that you left home a year ago and traveled a great distance to the center of the world, to this sacred site in Delphi. And now, trembling, you watch and listen as the Oracle inhales the breath of a god, transforms into a vessel for Apollo, and utters his divine words – to you

The first thing that you might notice is her pose. 

Imagine sitting on top of the high pedestal; feel your body take the same position. Tuck your right leg under your left thigh and point your left foot toward the center of the pedestal. Hold your left and hand in the air.

The long robe has fallen down below your chest. Your shoulders, breasts, arms, legs, and feet are bare. Feel the weight of the bracelet around your left ankle.

Everything works together to create a rapport, a dialogue, between the sculpture and the space around it. 

Her facial expression and out-stretched left arm and fingers lead you to wonder where she’s looking and what she sees. While the flat planes of her left palm and foot seem to abut against the barrier between the two worlds, her fingers, like the slithering mass of snakes that form her hair, probe the boundaries.

The effect extends the sculpture beyond its solid limits, not only into the viewer’s space but even further into an unworldly realm. 

Is the figure hovering in a moment of stillness or has the sculptor captured her in the midst of motion? Is her torso twisting or untwisting?

From here, we can see her left arm from a different point of view. Is it extending or is it retracting? Hesitant or resolute?

Notice how the artist counterbalanced the position of the figure’s left arm by lengthening and pointing the left foot and toes in the opposite direction. 

Sculptors use the grammar of the body, for example, the spiraling of a torso or the verticality of draped fabric, to enrich their story. 

The vertical lines of the gripping fingers, draped fabric, and pointed foot anchor the figure into the earthly world.  

Yet the turn of the head over her shoulder energizes the space beyond the figure and focuses the narrative elsewhere.

A sculptor also has to consider and solve the problems of form, space, line, texture, motion, and balance to create a surface that is a play of interaction between light and shadow. 

Compare the reflectivity of bronze of the figure to that of the base. Where does light collect? Or scatter across the surface? 

How does the play of light and reflection suggest various textures, like the softness of flesh? Or the flexibility of the writhing snakes that fight and squirm around her head? 

Finally, the lines of the pedestal plunge down and transform into sea monsters that arise from a pool of water. The time Marcello spent studying under the supervision of Antoine-Louis Barye, who is most famous for his work as an animalier (a sculptor of animals), is evident in the bellowing and screeching beasts. 

Marcello’s Pythian Sybil was accepted into the Salon of 1870. Most reviews of the artwork were positive, although a few critics disapproved that a figure with such raw sexuality should come from the hand of a woman. 

It caught enough attention to be caricaturized by Cham, one of the most popular French illustrators and cartoonists at the time, who drew the Pythia sitting on a chest-of-drawers.  

Cham au Salon de 1870

Garnier knew of Marcello and, while visiting her studio in Rome, saw the work in progress in clay. It was when he saw the bronze in Salon of 1870 that it made a lasting impression. At his request, the state purchased the work for the opera house for the considerable sum of 12,000 francs. Marcello hired founders Thiébaut et Fils to create a life-sized version in bronze.

This figure was not made specifically for the Opera. The niche that receives it was intended to shelter a seated statue of Orpheus [by Dumont], which, for various reasons, had been postponed from purchase. It was in Rome that the Duchess Colonna modeled her Pythia, and it was in Rome that I saw her, when the sculpture was still in clay. I liked it a lot, but I did not think then that it should have a place in the theatre. It was not until two years later, while the Pythia was exhibited in Paris, after its casting in bronze, that, not seeing the Orpheus coming to fruition, I wanted to see the effect that it could produce under the staircase. This effect was satisfying to me and I asked the minister to acquire the sculpture. That is what took place, and in the place of a white marble figure, quietly representing a very calm god, I had a tormented bronze, representing a priestess of Apollo tormenting herself on her tripod! I do not regret this substitution and, it seems to me, the public is of the same opinion. – Charles Garnier

In 1875, Marcello’s Pythian Sybil was installed behind a reflecting pool (now drained) in fantastically carved grotto beneath grand staircase of the Opéra in the Pavilion des Abonnés, the special entry that was reserved for special guests, performers, and wealthy season-ticket holders. In letter to her friend and colleague, sculptor Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux, Marcello wrote that she considered it to be her masterpiece.

Fifteen years after his first caricature, Cham published another. The Oracle of Apollo flinches in disgust as four tired, season-ticket holders soak their aching, dirty feet in the reflecting pool unaware and uninterested in the nearby figure from the classical past.  

Cham; Visitors profit from the vestibule of the Opéra where they received a little refreshment; From Le Charivari (August 13, 1878) 

Marcello’s Pythian Sibyl became so popular that editions were produced in marble and in bronze. However, only four of them are known to exist. 

A marble of the bust-only version, created for the dressmaker Charles-Frederick Worth, is in the collection of the Musée Carnavalet Marcello, Paris. 

The Philadelphia Museum of Art owns a bronze in the decorative-sized version (31 1/2 inches / 80 cm; at left).

A second bronze is now housed in the Musée d’art et d’histoire, Fribourg. The third and last was recently sold by Christies.

Unfortunately, The Pythian Sybil was one of Marcello’s last sculptures. D’Affry had suffered from tuberculosis for many years, and, after 1870, became too weak to continue to sculpt. She turned to painting but had little success.

Marcello – Left: Marchande de poissons à Naples and Right: Portrait de Berthe Morisot, 1874; both Musée d’Art et d’Archéologie, Fribourg

Adele d’Affry, Duchess Castiglione-Colonna, the artist known as Marcello, died of tuberculosis at the age of forty-three in 1879 in small town on the Gulf of Naples; she is buried in Givisiez, Switzerland. She designed her own tombstone, which reads, “Elle aima le beau et le bien et ses oeuvres lui survivent” (She loved the beautiful and the good and her works survive her).

Although the Salon exhibitions were technically open to artists who were female, the opportunities remained so limited that in 1881, sculptor and women’s right advocate Hélène Bertaux founded the Union of Women Painters and Sculptors in Paris. The collective educated and fostered the careers of female artists, campaigned for their admission into the École des Beaux-Arts, and fought for their right to compete for the Prix de Rome. 

When École des Beaux-Arts began to admit women in 1897, they were still banned from life drawing. 

Étienne Carjat; Hélène Bertaux, 1864

For centuries, social conventions limited the training available to women artists, the subjects they could render, and their access to patrons. They did not want to be seen as female artists, but simply as artists, inspired by a noble and pure ideal.

These trailblazers deserve to have their stories told. But the greatest honor that can awarded is to explore their art.

Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire; 1934; from the movie The Gay Divorcee

Meighan Maley



Académie Julian; An Art School That Also Taught Life

Bluett, Amy. Victorian women and the fight for arts training;

Eugène Delacroix, Allegorical Figure of Envy; Philadelphia Museum of Art (Delacroix)

Georges-Eugène Haussmann: Arrondissments & Boulevards;

Harris, Ann Sutherland and Linda Nochlin.  Women Artists: 1550-1950. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1984.

How to Recognize a Haussmann Style Building;

Images of the Grand Staircase; Walid Layouni

La Pythie (The Pythian Sibyl) Bronze Sculpture;

Myers, Nicole. “Women Artists in Nineteenth-Century France.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. (September 2008)  

Nochlin, Linda. “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?” In her Women, Art, and Power and Other Essays, pp. 145–78. New York: Harper & Row, 1988.

Opéra Garnier; Khan

Pierre, Caterina. “A New Formula for High Art: The Genesis and Reception of Marcello’s Pythia,” Nineteenth-Century Art Worldwide 2, no. 2 (Autumn 2003); 19th-Century Art Worldwide

Pierre, Caterina. “Genius Has No Sex – The Sculpture of Marcello (1836 – 1879)”, 2010; ISBN 978-2-88474-662-5

Pierre, Caterina Y. “Marcello’s Heroic Sculpture.” Woman’s Art Journal, vol. 22, no. 1, 2001, pp. 14–2.

Second Empire Style;

The Formation of a French School: the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture;

The Paris Opéra: Charles Garnier’s Opulent Architectural Masterpiece; Stephen Gjertson

One comment

  1. I loved this illustrated essay, Meighan. Pam

    On Mon, Mar 15, 2021 at 12:41 PM The Art of Seeing – Explore Works from Philadelphia’s Museum of Art and Rod

    Liked by 1 person

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