This artwork, painted by the Italian artist Gaspare Diziani (c. 1689-1767), was inspired by a curious poem called Gerusalemme liberata, written by the Italian poet, Torquato Tasso (c. 1544-1595). Tasso’s poem, which translates as The Liberation of Jerusalem, is a fictitious tale that is set in the times of the First Crusade (c. 1095/1096-1099). Despite the deceptive name of the poem, the Gerusalemme liberata more closely resembles ancient epic poems such as the Iliad and the Aeneid than an actual account of the First Crusade. It features a mixture of purely fictional characters and some historical figures set in unhistorical episodes. From magic and monsters, to duels, and digressions into chivalric tales of star-crossed lovers, Torquato Tasso was quite inventive in his fantastical rendition of the First Crusade. That brings us to the subject of the painting—Erminia.
As Torquato Tasso tells it in his fictional poem, Erminia was a refugee who fled from the Crusader armies and found sanctuary in the then-unconquered city of Jerusalem. While she was being driven from her home, only one crusader was kind to her. This crusader was Tancred (a historical figure spliced into this fictional plot), and his kindness caused Erminia to fall in love with him. During the siege of Jerusalem, the two were on opposite sides of the wall, but Erminia watched Tancred’s actions with interest. When she eventually saw that Tancred was injured during a duel, she was compelled to slip out of Jerusalem’s defenses to treat her beloved crusader’s wounds. To do this, she stole a suit of armor and a horse, and was able to bluff her way out of the gates. It is this scene of Erminia equipping herself in armor for her mission to save Tancred that Gaspare Diziani re-creates in his painting.
Of course, venturing into the camp of the besieging army was no easy feat and Erminia ultimately was not able to reach Tancred at that time. Instead, she was discovered by Crusader scouts and was chased away, leading armored Erminia to stumble upon a community of shepherds, who were understandably shocked and startled by her appearance. Nevertheless, after recovering from the surprise, the shepherds let Erminia hide in their community.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
- The Liberation of Jerusalem by Torquato Tasso and translated by Max Wickert. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.