Today I would like to share a piece John Collier, an English painter known for working in the Pre-Raphaelite style.
Collier’s painting ‘The Garden of Armida’ depicts a very unusual scene. Surrounded by his amiable female companions as he stares outward at the viewer, our subject does not seem pleased to be at this function, and we are urged to identify with him for reasons unspecified. The title references a fictitious tale by Italian poet Torquato Tasso from his epic ‘Jerusalem Delivered,’ in which Rinaldo, a noble solider of the First Crusade, is held captive by the sorceress Armida in a beautiful, enchanted garden.
This episode, of course, was inspired by Odysseus’s captivity by Calypso in Homer’s ‘Odyssey.’ On a related note, Tasso’s Rinaldo and Armida tale is included in a four-cycle painting by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, a series which I’ve long admired in the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago.
Here is Tiepolo’s ‘Rinaldo and Armida in Her Garden’ from the aforementioned cycle:
How Tasso’s story applies to Collier’s painting, which is shown in a contemporary setting rather than the magical garden from the source material, is open to interpretation. The choice of title strikes as very curious, but whatever the case it communicates to the viewer that this gentleman is unquestionably present against his will. The four women gather around him as if he were the life of the party, however his body language speaks otherwise, indicating that he might not be in control of himself. Poor fellow. Perhaps he, like the legendary Rinaldo, is required elsewhere but has been seduced by the garden’s temptations. Having just finished a glass of wine, he’s obviously over indulging, and the beautiful woman at his right is conveniently supplying him with another serving, filled up to the brim. I also note the seated woman at the table, who is positioned in a relaxed, sensuous manner, suggesting other pleasures to come. That said, I would assert that this work was meant as a tongue-n-cheek warning against worldly excesses, not to be taken too seriously by the viewer. Who knows. Maybe staying a little while longer in the garden would serve this fellow well.
Subject matter aside, I really like the palette of colors and how the light from the candles and hanging lanterns illuminate the scene. Very beautiful.