Rinaldo and Armida
(Luca Giordano)


The two episodes, which are illustrated in these paintings, are taken from Torquato Tasso’s Gerusalemme Liberata, a fictitious and often a sentimental, dramatic and fantastic tale of Christian adventures during the First Crusade, which includes a number of romantic and ultimately tragic liaisons. The first episode, illustrating Rinaldo and Armida, is comparatively rarely portrayed and reuses iconography which is often associated with the scene of Aeneas’ abandonment of Dido as set out in Virgil’s Aenead. Here, Rinaldo, a Christian prince, whom the Saracens had engaged to assist in their defence of the Holy City, has sought out the sorceress Armida, so that he might obtain the restoration and release of several of his followers whom she had transformed into monsters. When Rinaldo successfully frees his companions Armida swears revenge, but her hatred turns to love once they meet and the couple dally in her enchanted realm, The Fortunate Isle. A band of Rinaldo’s companions has come to beg the prince to come away, but the love lorn Armida, kneeling before him on the beach, entreats him in an attempt to forestall his departure.

In the second episode Giordano illustrates a scene in which a young Christian, Sophronia, has been condemned to be burned on a pyre by the Saracen king. She is joined there by her faithful lover Olindo who chooses to perish with her. At the last moment they are saved by Clorinda, a valiant Amazon Saracen Warrior who, taking pity on the young couple, in exchange for their lives promises her support against the crusaders.

Gerusalemme Liberata struck an immediate cord both with artists and musicians. As early as 1590 an edition appeared in Genoa illustrated with engravings by Agostino Carracci. Thereafter, and well into the eighteenth century, several episodes became the favoured stock of numerous Italian and northern artists. In Naples, artists from the 1630s and 40s onwards, favoured the two stories (illustrated here). Paolo Finoglia, Andrea Vaccaro, Massimo Stanzione, Antonio de Bellis, Bernardo Cavallino and above all Mattia Preti, all interpreted these episodes during their careers. Luca Giordano painted these stories on several different occasions. The 1693 inventory of the Collection of Francisco de Benavides, Count of Santisteban and Viceroy of Naples, records a series of twelve large canvasses by Giordano illustrating scenes from Tasso’s poem. Until now only two of these canvasses have been identified with any certainty and these are in the collection of the Dukes of Medinaceli in Seville.

Around 1680 Giordano painted an immense Olindo and Sophronia which is iconographically very close to the exhibited picture. This canvas was acquired by the Marchese del Grillo for his palace in Rome together with two further huge canvasses which represent Perseus turning Phineas and his followers to stone (see p. XXX in this catalogue) and a Jezabel Devoured by Dogs where the horse and rider, also placed to the right, bear striking similarities with the mounted figure of Clorinda in the Sophronia and Olindo exhibited here. This series of canvasses was sold early in the eighteenth century to the Marchese Balbi in Genoa where Cochin records seeing them in 1758 and later passed to the Palazzo Durazzo (now Palazzo Reale) in the same city.

Another version of the Perseus and Phineas which must originally have formed part of the same series on account of its scale now hangs paired with the Olindo and Sophronia in Palazzo Reale, Genoa.

Giordano later executed a simplified version of the Olindo and Sophronia composition but with the figures in a broadly similar disposition, which now hangs in the collection of the Marquis of Exeter at Burghley House, Stamford . A further version of the story of the love of Armida for Rinaldo, but in poor condition, recently appeared at Sotheby’s, London.

The two paintings by Luca Giordano under discussion have served as models for a variety of later Neapolitan artists including Guiseppe Simonelli, Nicola Malinconico and later on the better-known Paolo de Matteis.

Our paintings are stylistically comparable with the large series acquired by the Marchese del Grillo and may thus also be dated circa 1680. The debt to Paolo Veronese, whom Giordano had studied in Venice, is evident in all these works both in the typology and the scenography while the colouring is inspired by Rubens’ Italian period as well as by such neo-Venetian influences as Pietro de Cortona’s output in Rome. The two paintings clearly illustrate Giordano’s developed style before his Florentine period of 1682-85 when his palette became lighter and his style broadened, in part in response to Cortona’s frescoes in the Pitti Palace. As Helston has pointed out, Giordano always achieves a balance between detail in his depiction and generalisation, concentrating on the dramatic impact of his subject. He has the ability to ‘freeze’ drama like a photographic frame. Equally, because he is working quickly there are often many pentiments, but also inspired imaginative touches such as the reflections in the shield carried by the soldier standing half in and half out of the boat to the right of the Rinaldo and Armida. Both paintings have retained their exceptional Baroque Florentine or Siennese black and gold frames in vogue from 1650 on and this would indicate that they were commissioned by an important Tuscan family, perhaps at the very outset of Giordano’s stay in Florence in 1682.

61 x 81 1/8 ins. 155 x 206 cm.
Oil on canvas

Probably Spanish Royal Collection;

Joseph Bonaparte, The Count de Survilliers by 1800, then brought

to Philadelphia in the US with his collection in 1815;

Private Collection, France.


Naples. Museo di Capodimonte, Luca Giordano 1634-1705

Guida alla Mostra, 2001, Naples, Electa Editore, pp.38-9, ill

G. Scavizzi, Luca Giordano, his life and work, Naples, 2017, p. 144, no. 63


Naples, Vienna & Los Angeles 2001-2002, ‘Luca Giordano’, 2001. nos. 77a and 77b, pp. 226-227.

Where is It?
Matthiesen Gallery
Historical Period
Baroque - 1600-1720
Italian - Neapolitan
2001-2001: An Art Odyssey (1500-1720)
Hardbound millennium catalogue with special binding with 58 colour plates and 184 black and white illustrations, 360 pages. £35 or $50 plus p.& p.

(Click on image above)
Price band
$1 million - $1.5 million