Tiepolo's Tasso Cycle
Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (1699 - 1770) was the most important and imaginative Venetian painter of the eighteenth century. Among Tiepolo's most lyrical works is this series of four paintings illustrating Torquato Tasso's (1544 - 1595) celebrated poem "Jerusalem delivered (Gerusalemme liberata)", first published in 1581.
In these paintings Tiepolo attempted to create a style that is a visual equivalent of Tasso's exalted poetry. In a fanciful account of the first crusade of 1099 and the subsequent capture of Jerusalem, Tasso described the Christian knight Rinaldo and the enchanting sorceress Armida. In his depiction of Rinaldo's struggle to overcome the charms of Armida and fulfill his mission to save the Holy Land, Tiepolo emphasized the conflict between love and duty.
A recently discovered inventory suggests that the Rinaldo and Armida series was originally displayed in a Venetian palace owned by the eminent Cornaro (Corner) family. Apparently, these four pictures, together with at least three oval paintings (now in the Galleria nazionale d'Arte Antica in Rome and the Norton Simon Art Foundation in Pasadena) and perhaps four narrow, vertical canvases (now in the National Gallery in London) once adorned a chamber in the Cornaro palace known as the "gabinetto degli specchi", or "the small room of mirrors". This location would partly account for the prominence of mirrors and mirrored surfaces in Tiepolo's paintings.
Armida abandoned by Rinaldo
Here, Carlo and Ubaldo persuade Rinaldo to leave Armida and rejoin their chivalric quest. Armida pleads with Rinaldo to remain. The scene poignantly contrasts love and duty :
She said no more, her tears her speeches broke
But in a swoon on earth outstretch'd she lies
what should he do? Leave on the naked sand
This woeful lady, half alive, half dead?
Kindness forbade, pity did that withstand;
But hard constraint, alas! did thence him lead.
(Torquato Tasso, Jerusalem Delivered, XVI,50,59,61)
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