Rinaldo Taking Leave of Armida
by GIOVANNI BATTISTA TIEPOLO (Venetian School)
THE end and aim of Venice was the celebration of pleasure, and her painters,
with untroubled consciences, reflected her singleness of purpose.
of man; his weakness and his might; the qualities of courage and pity; the
whole range of human passions-all these the Venetians ruled out of their
art, content to improvise upon a single mood.
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Veronese, the last of the great
decorators of splendor, had no successors, but a century after his death, the
gifted Tiepolo prolonged the dwindling pageantry of the old tradition.
In Tiepolo’s day, Venice was still the gayest of cities, but living on inherited
wealth and glory, professionalizing the cult of voluptuousness for the benefit
of romantic visitors, and substituting artificial ceremonials and prearranged
elegance for the older and far more genuine passion for sensuous beauty.
such an atmosphere, Tiepolo could hardly have rivaled Titian and Tintoretto,
or even his master, Veronese. He had extraordinary fluency of expression, and
as a technician in fresco he was second to none; but inasmuch as there was no
demand for nobility of thought or depth of emotion, he remained a virtuoso,
probably the most talented in the whole field of mural painting, one whose
pictures please the eye but leave the spirit unemployed.
Tiepolo worked in Venice, Austria, and for Charles III, in Spain, ornament
ing walls and ceilings of rococo palaces with frescoes of bewildering dexterity.
Rinaldo Taking Leave of Armida represents him on a smaller scale and in a
The picture was inspired by an episode from Tasso’s Jerusalem
Delivered in which Rinaldo, a noble Crusader, was rescued by two Christian
messengers from the sorceress Armida, niece of the Sultan of Damascus. The
scene is a mountaintop on one of the Islands of the Blest;
Rinaldo is heeding
the call of Christian duty, while Armida, her sorcery dispelled and her sup
plications unavailing, prepares to faint. The painting is the last of the old order
of romantic decorations. Painted a century earlier, with an undisguised amor
ous surge, with opulence, nudity, and sensual relish,
it would not have suffered in the company of Veronese; in the course of time it became, with other
Tiepolos, a model for baroque decorators, and finally, in the nineteenth cen
tury, the staple for drop curtains in luxurious theaters.