Giovanni Battista Tiepolo
Italian, 1696–1770
Rinaldo Enchanted by Armida
1742/45

Oil on canvas
73 13/16 x 85 3/8 in. (187.5 x 216.8 cm)
Bequest of James Deering, 1925.700

The pastel colors, feathery brushwork, airy and graceful composition, and allegorical subject matter of works by the Italian artist Giovanni Battista Tiepolo are features consistent with contemporary Rococo painting in France. Rinaldo Enchanted by Armida, a spirited example of Tiepolo’s Rococo manner produced in his native Venice, illustrates passages from Jerusalem Liberated, the renowned 16th-century epic about the First Crusade composed in Italian by the poet Torquato Tasso. As the first in a series of paintings based on the epic, it sets the stage for the crusader Rinaldo’s romantic interlude with the beautiful sorceress Armida, who bewitches him. Rinaldo, the central hero of the epic, is thus delayed on his journey to the Holy Lands to wrest its control from the Muslims.

Each of the four works in the series portrays a different moment in the ill-fated relationship of Armida and Rinaldo. In this painting, Armida floats on a cloud toward the sleeping knight as if appearing to him in a dream. Her gown and robes drift around her body in a shimmering mass of fabric. Such decorative treatment of drapery was a common Rococo convention. Tiepolo’s pale colors and glowing light work to heighten the dreamlike mood, while the open expanse of sky and idealized landscape behind the figures places them in a magical, pastoral world.

A stanza from Tasso’s poem may have inspired the scene:

... but when she fixed her eyes upon the boy
and saw how he was breathing peacefully
and round his pretty eyes a kind of joy
though they were shut—and how sweet would they be
when opened—she paused in doubt, then sat nearby,
and felt her anger melt away as she
beheld him. Like Narcissus at the pool
she hung upon his lovely face.
(XIV, 66)

Tiepolo’s series was originally designed for a room in a Venetian palace. After the initial courtship of the lovers depicted in the first two works—Rinaldo Enchanted by Armida and Rinaldo and Armida in Her Garden—Rinaldo is forced by his friends to choose between staying with the beautiful sorceress and continuing on his crusade to the Holy Land. His choice of duty over temptation is the subject of Armida Abandoned by Rinaldo. In the last painting, Rinaldo and Magus of Ascalon, a wise magician rewards the knight’s decision to resume his journey to Jerusalem by enchanting Rinaldo’s shield so that the heroic deeds of the crusader’s ancestors are seen on its surface. Prior to its acquisition by the Art Institute, the Tasso cycle graced the walls of Vizcaya, the Florida mansion of James Deering, an avid collector of Venetian Rococo painting and decorative arts.

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