(b. 1601, Firenze, d. 1661, Innsbruck)


c. 1650
Oil on canvas, 127 x 80 cm
Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence

Armida, the protagonist, is one of the most intense and moving figures in Jerusalem Delivered by Torquato Tasso: a beautiful Muslim princess, extremely gifted in the art of magic, is sent by her uncle to the Christian army, with the task of distracting the soldiers with her cunning and seduction. Falling hopelessly in love with the crusader, Rinaldo, Armida abducts him to take him to the Fortunate Isles, conjuring up a palace and enchanted gardens in order to keep him there. Carlo and Ubaldo, companions of Rinaldo, are able to enter the fairytale kingdom, where they find the young man and convince him to return to his army. The abandoned Armida falls into despair and fury. She climbs to the top of the mountain, calls to her all the spirits of hell and then leaves to join the Egyptian ranks in order to get revenge. This is the image chosen for the painting by Cecco Bravo, where the bold sensuality of the young woman is accentuated by the transparencies of her clothing and by the pearls and ribbons she wears. The regular profile of her face is like that of an antique cameo, emphasised by full lips, eyes looking off into the horizon, and the arm lifting the magical sceptre.

An astonishing variety of animals surround Armida: dragons, serpents and demons from the circles of Hell as described by Tasso. Never truly frightening, but rather bizarre and subservient to the satirical, burlesque vein that flows through Florentine paintings from the mid-17th century, becoming a particular feature, these monsters seem inspired by the limitless range of inventions taken from ancient grotesques and the variations they offered to the whole Mannerist generation and beyond, through to the dazzling sorcery of Salvator Rosa.

The scene is not complete because the canvas has been cut down on the left side, so there is a piece missing that perhaps corresponds to a section of landscape that contained other fantastical apparitions. The painting therefore must have been wider than it is today.

© Web Gallery of Art, created by Emil Krén and Daniel Marx.