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Plaque: Aeneas and the Sybil in the Underworld

The Aeneid, an epic poem by the Roman poet Virgil (70-19 BC) describes the journey of the Trojan hero, Aeneas, and his companions to Italy, and culminates in the legendary founding of Rome. At one stage of his journey Aeneas was guided by the Cumaean Sibyl through the Underworld to visit his dead father, Anchises. This Limoges painted enamel plaque illustrates Tartarus, where various characters are shown in torment, such as Tityus being pecked by a vulture (bottom right). This is one of eighty-two recorded plaques illustrating episodes from the Aeneid, made around 1530 by an unidentified enameller. The scenes were copied, though not slavishly, from woodcut illustrations to Books I-IX of the Aeneid in the complete works of Virgil, edited by Sebastian Brandt, and published by Johann Grüninger in Strasburg in 1502. This influential work was the first printed book to have illustrations of the Aeneid, and the characters shown in the plates were labelled to assist readers to understand the text, a feature repeated by the enameller. The same plates appeared in editions of the work published in Lyon in 1517 and 1529. The original location of the Aeneid plaques is unknown. Damage to the corners suggests that they may have been set into the panelling of the owner’s private apartment or study, where their literary theme would have been appropriate.