This is one of Guercino's finest late works, imposing in composition, rich in colour and dignified in pose and gesture. It represents one of the twelve pagan sibyls, or seers, who were reputed to have foretold the coming of Christ. The Cumaean Sibyl predicted that Christ would be born of a virgin in a stable at Bethlehem. The inscription refers to the cross on which Christ was crucified.
The painting was commissioned in 1651 by Gioseffo Locatelli of Cesena as a companion to the 'King David' now in the Spencer Collection, Althorp, but was bought by Prince Mattias de' Medici. Guercino painted a replacement for Locatelli, the 'Samian Sibyl', which is also in the Spencer Collection.