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Rinaldo and Armida

Torquato Tasso's epic poem "La Gerusalemme Liberata", completed in 1575 and published in 1581, provided the inspiration for this work. many seventeenth-century painters. Poussin used many of its characters, Tancred and Erminia, Carlo and Ubaldo, and Rinaldo and Armida as sources for his work. The poem is set at the time of the First Crusade and follows the vicissitudes of fighting Christians and Saracens. This scene, taken from Canto XIV is dedicated to the story of the crusader Rinaldo and the Saracen sorceress Armida. Having lulled him into a deep sleep with her incantations, Armida proceeds to kill Rinaldo. But as she strikes the Christian hero, she falls in love with him: 'so (who would believe it?) dormant passions of concealed eyes softened that ice which hardened the heart more than diamond, and of the enemy she became lover'. Overwhelmed by love, Armida transports the sleeping Rinaldo in her flying chariot to the island of Fortuna in the middle of the ocean. There, in her magical palace and enchanted gardens, Rinaldo forgets the war and happily lives in the enchantress' company, until his companions Carlo and Ubaldo come and free him. The two central characters of Tasso's story are the focus of Poussin's painting. Rinaldo has finally succumbed to Armida's spell, and is asleep in a golden suit of armour (derived from a drawing by Poussin after the antique). Armida swiftly approaches in her blue and white wind-swept robes; the dagger in her right hand ready to slay. Her arm is restrained by a winged Cupid and the sorceress instantly falls in love with the crusader; her left hand gently caressing Rinaldo's golden curls and hand, her eyes staring at the object of her affection. Poussin represents here the exact moment in which Armida's hatred is turned into undying passion. Tasso introduced his poem with an Allegoria in which he explained how many of the characters and events in the "Gerusalemme Liberata" symbolized different concepts. Rinaldo portrayed, according to the poet, war-like temperament. If directed by Understanding, this would lead to positive results, but if guided by Concupiscence it would lead to harmful effects. As argued by Anthony Blunt, therefore, the Dulwich canvas depicts an allegory of the human struggle between Reason and Concupiscence.

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