POUSSIN, Nicolas
(b. 1594, Les Andelys, d. 1665, Roma)

The Companions of Rinaldo

c. 1633
Oil on canvas, 118 x 102 cm
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

This picture illustrates an episode from Torquato Tasso's heroic poem Gerusalemme Liberata (Jerusalem Delivered). First published in 1580, the poem combines an account of the First Crusade with imaginary adventures and love stories. One of the heroes, Rinaldo, is abducted by the pagan sorceress Armida, who falls in love with him and carries him off to her palace on the island of Fortune. There she casts a spell on him causing him to fall in love with her. Two Christian knights, Carlo and Ubaldo, come to exhort Rinaldo to leave his beloved and rejoin his fellow crusaders, but their way to Armida's palace is blocked by a dragon. It is this scene, recorded in canto 15 of Tasso's poem that is represented here.

One of four paintings by Poussin that illustrate the story of Rinaldo and Armida, this is the latest in the story's sequence and is usually dated in the early 1630s. A work from the same period, now in the Dulwich Picture Gallery, London, shows Armida about to slay the sleeping Rinaldo, but suddenly arrested by his beauty. In a painting in the Pushkin Museum, Moscow, slightly later than the Dulwich picture, Armida has dropped her dagger and is about to lift Rinaldo up and carry him off with her to her island. A third picture, in the Gemäldegalerie, Berlin, represents the actual carrying off of Rinaldo by Armida and was painted by Poussin in 1637 for his friend and fellow artist, Jacques Stella. These works cannot have formed a unified cycle as they differ in style and dimensions.

Suggested listening (streaming mp3, 8 minutes):
George Frideric Handel: Two arias, Rinaldo, Acts II and III