Jean Honoré Fragonard (French, 1732–1806)
Brush and brown wash over black chalk underdrawing
13 1/4 x 18 in. (33.5 x 45.7 cm)
Purchase, Louis V. Bell, Harris Brisbane Dick, Fletcher, and Rogers Funds and Joseph Pulitzer Bequest; Guy Wildenstein Gift; The Elisha Whittelsey Collection, The Elisha Whittelsey Fund; Kristin Gary Fine Art Gift; and funds from various donors, 2009 (2009.236)
This boldly handled and beautifully preserved drawing by Fragonard illustrates a scene from canto 18 of Torquato Tasso's epic poem Jerusalem Delivered, published in 1581. The poem was a highly fictionalized and fantastic account of the First Crusade in 1099. In this scene, Rinaldo, a Christian knight on his way to the Holy Land, is detained by the pagan enchantress Armida until two of his fellow knights break the spell. Fragonard's drawing imagines the decisive moment of Rinaldo's victory, as he brandishes his sword overhead in the act of chopping down Armida's massive myrtle tree, thereby dispelling its enchantments.
This sheet was made soon after Fragonard returned to Paris after having spent five years in Rome, from 1756 to 1761. Exposure to the masters of the Italian Baroque led him to move beyond his early style, which had been indebted to the sweet Rococo manner of his teacher François Boucher, and to endow his figures and compositions with a new energy and dynamism. Along with this stylistic shift emerged a marked predilection for sketchlike canvases and large, painterly drawings.