Essays and Criticism
Images of Feminity in Traditional Art Epic Terms
Gerusalemme Liberata has rightly been called the finest Renaissance art epic written in terms of style, action, message, and characters. Torquato Tasso successfully combines elements of the heroic epic with elements of the medieval romance. One of his major contributions to the art epic are his female characters. Traditionally female epic characters fall into one of two kinds: the prize object and the Amazon. The prize objects are usually characters that are hyper-feminine; they cannot defend themselves, they are usually the reward for some heroic act by the male characters, and they provide the majority of the narrative action. The Amazons, on the other hand, tend to be women who cease to be women; they are warriors who refrain from anything feminine and fight, act, and generally behave just like men. Both prize objects and Amazons are incredibly beautiful. These definitions are open to numerous mutations, but the idea of women as the source of tension in epic literature is a predominant feature of the genre. While Tasso uses these types of female characters in his poem, he subtly twists these definitions, trying to give his women more credibility and human focus. Although these powerful characterizations of women are, in epic terms, evil, i.e. bad guys, they are redeemed by the power of love. Tasso's three main female characters, Clorinda, Erminia, and Armida, reshape the traditional definitions of epic femininity and recast the role of women in Renaissance...
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Spenser's Dance of the Graces and Tasso's Dance of the Sylvan Nymphs
The two major annotated editions of The Faerie Queene both overlook Tasso's Dance of the Sylvan Nymphs in the Gerusalemme Liberata as a source for Spenser's Dance of the Graces. Yet the similarities between the two Dances are striking. The scenes for both Dances, Mount Acidale and the Enchanted Forest, are Venusian paradises. Both scenes depict music, dancing nymphs who are really conjured spirits, an artist figure animating the Dance, and dancers who vanish through a hero's action. More specifically, both feature Dances animated by a magician in which one hundred spirit-nymphs move around a figure of beauty in the center.
In Book VI, canto x, of The Faerie Queene, Spenser's hero Calidore stumbles upon Mount Acidale, a paradise sacred to Venus. Mount Acidale features a "spacious plaine" atop a hill that is "bordered with a wood," through which flows a "gentle flud." Calidore, hearing "the merry sound / Of a shrill pipe," marches to the forested edge of the plain until he spies
An hundred naked maidens lilly white, All raunged in a ring, and dauncing in delight. All they without were raunged in a ring, And daunced round; but in the midst of them Three other Ladies did both daunce and sing, The whilest the rest them round about did hemme, And like a girlond did in compasse stemme: And in the middest of those same three, was placed Another Damzell.
Spenser's Dance features a series...
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An Early Interpretation of Tasso's Gerusalemme Liberata
The National Gallery of Ireland in Dublin has a painting of The Liberation of Jerusalem in its collection. One enters the carefully arranged and brilliantly colored composition through the most prominent figure on a rearing horse who signals the onslaught enacted to the right. In sharp contrast is the relaxed and somewhat melancholy allegory of victory reclining in the foreground. By combining a keen historical accuracy with an allegorical figure to suggest the context and purpose of action, the painter reveals himself to be acutely sensitive to Torquato Tasso's epic poem Gerusalemme Liberata. Before pursuing this relationship, however, there is a question of authorship to resolve.
Currently attributed to Ambrose Dubois, the painting actually belongs to the oeuvre of Lodovico Cardi, "Il Cigoli." Through comparisons with known works by Cigoli this painting can be attributed securely and dated with relative precision ca. 1590. The soldier at the lower right with his back to us grasping the bottom rung of the ladder, for example, is almost identical in pose to the tormentor in Cigoli's Martyrdom of St. Lawrence of 1590. Both he and his companion shooting an arrow are similar in pose, body type, proportion, and clothing to the soldier in Cigoli's Resurrection of 1591. And the ramparts of this Jerusalem are sufficiently close to the walls of Jerusalem in Cigoli's St. Heraclius Carrying the Cross of 1594 to confirm common...
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The Epic: The Gerusalemme Liberata
Structurally the Liberata is a fusion of the heroic epic and the chivalrous romance, and represents a conscious attempt at the perfection of a literary form. Few poems have been less 'spontaneous' in the conventional sense: years of reading, thought, discussion, correspondence, even formal declaration of principles preceded and accompanied the composition of the poem. For Tasso the peaks of literary achievement had been reached by Homer and Virgil in the epic and his aim was to rival, where possible to excel them. It is typical of Tasso's approach to art, to style and language to build on the great achievements of the past, and he deduced his principles for epic poetry very largely from the Iliad and the Aeneid, and from the classical literary theorists, particularly Aristotle and Demetrius.
His epic thus treats an heroic theme of large scale, the siege and capture of Jerusalem in 1099 by Godfrey of Boulogne and his allies; it deliberately plunges 'in medias res' with the approach to Jerusalem, ignoring the previous exploits of the crusaders; it has a single unified theme, to which the episodes are subordinated; it adopts a serious magniloquent tone throughout—so that De Sanctis complained that 'from first to last he blew the trumpet'; and its characters and action are very widely inspired by classical precedent, with 'maraviglie,' 'agnizione,' 'peripezie,' etc. The councils of the supernatural forces controlling the action, the...
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