Social History of Art

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18th 1700-1775

Tiepolo, Armida and the Sleeping Rinaldo, Bewitched by Love, 1745, Chicago

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Tiepolo, Armida and the Sleeping Rinaldo, Bewitched by Love, 1745, Chicago
The story comes from Tasso's epic, "Jerusalem Liberated" (1575) which recounts the chivalric adventures of the Christian knight, Rinaldo. Despite its late medieval setting, Tasso's poem is heavily based on classical literature, especially the subplot whereby the beautiful island enchantress, Armida, bewitches the young hero and makes him a prisoner of love in her fragrant garden. Here Tasso updated Homer's Odysseus ensnared by Circe and Calypso, as well as other classical accounts of heroes waylaid by love such as Achilles among the Lycomedes, Antony and Cleopatra, Hercules and Omphale, Aeneas and Dido, Mars and Venus, and Adonis and Venus. Like Achilles, Rinaldo is eventually shamed by his fellow soldiers and leaves the "feminine" world of private dalliance and pleasure to fulfill his heroic, "masculine" destiny in the public world of combat and politics. The theme was popular in Renaissance and Baroque court art such as Van Dyck in part because it allowed viewers to have their cake and eat it too,. Male viewers could vicariously enjoy the pleasures of love while flaunting a manly distance from all such effeminizing dalliance. (Tasso compared the love-struck Rinaldo to Narcissus.) Female viewers could enjoy fantasies of seducing a handsome nobleman while admiring his heroic departure to greater glory and a nobler love. As with Van Dyck's painting now in Philadelphia and earlier Venetian paintings by Veronese of Mars or Adonis sleeping blissfully in the lap of Venus, Tiepolo took full advantage of his subject to create a male sleeping beauty. With his head tipped up as if for a kiss, Tiepolo's Rinaldo was served up primarily to female viewers just as the n nude figure of Armida drew in male spectators. Like Van Dyck''s painting before it, Tiepolo's Rinaldo also appealed to male viewers happy to contemplate such masculine sensuality.
Posted by Robert Baldwin on January 8, 2012 Full Size| Slideshow