Seeing Faces, Seeing Michelangelo's Sibyls

by Sister Hilda Kleiman, OSB

In chapter five of The Object Stares Back: On the Nature of Seeing (public library), James Elkins moves from his consideration of seeing bodies to his consideration of seeing faces:

The face is definitely the object I see best.  I see the most in it: in fact I see far more than I am aware of seeing, more than I could ever describe or list.  It is the site of the most nuanced looking of which I am capable, and I am lucky if I see anything else in the world with a tenth of the concentration that I train on faces (176).

Just as the bodies of the figures on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, including the prophets, may help us ponder Elkins's work, the faces of figures of the ceiling frescoes, including those of the pagan sibyls that correspond to the Old Testament prophets, may help us ponder his points about faces:

The face of the Delphic Sibyl - PD-Art

The Delphic Sibyl - PD-Art

The Erythraean Sibyl - PD-Art

The Libyan Sibyl - PD-Art

The Persian Sibyl - PD-Art