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Rinaldo and Armida

The subject of the painting comes from the 1581 epic poem Gerusalemme Liberata by Torquato Tasso (1544-95). The poem is set at the time of the First Crusade, at the end of the eleventh century, and follows the tale of fighting Christians and Saracens. In this scene, the Saracen sorceress Armida moves to kill the sleeping crusader Rinaldo. Just as she is about to strike, however, she falls in love with the Christian hero. Overwhelmed by love, Armida transports the sleeping Rinaldo in her flying chariot to her magical palace. There, Rinaldo forgets the wars and happily lives in the enchantress' company, until his companions Carlo and Ubaldo come to free him.

Here, the French painter Nicholas Poussin (1594-1665) creates a contrast between the violence of Armida's action and the look of tenderness on her face. A winged Cupid restrains Armida’s arm, representing the exact moment in which her hatred is turned into undying passion. Poussin was very inspired by this epic poem and used many of its characters - Tancred and Herminia, Carlo and Ubaldo, and Rinaldo and Armida - as sources for his work, exploring their stories of love and war.

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Currently on display

Nicolas Poussin
Gallery 11
82.2 x 109.2 cm
Oil on canvas
Bourgeois Bequest, 1811
Accession number