Nicolas Colombel (Sotterville-lès-Rouen 1644 - Paris 1717)

Rinaldo abandoning Armida Sold

Oil on canvas, 46 1/2 x 67 in.




Provenance: Collection of Andrea Appiani (1754-1817 ) (Catalogo delle Pitture, dei Cartoni e Disegni più ragguardevoli del defunto cavaliere Andrea Appiani e di varie altre pitture, stampe e libri figurativi esistenti presso gli Eredi del suddetto C. Appiani, Milan, 1818, no. 26 [as Domenichino, and listed as measuring 3 piedi, 7 pollici, 6 pun. in height and 5 piedi, 1 pollice, 6 pun. In width, which corresponds to the dimensions of our painting]); by descent to his son Costanzo Appiani and his wife Cristina Tacchini, “zia dell’attuale proprietario” [“aunt of the present owner”, in 1945] (as transcribed from an inscription on the back of a card-backed photograph of the painting, certified by Eligio Possenti on 10 September 1945, which implies that it remained in Italy and was still there in 1945, as school of Domenichino); since 1945, Italy, private collection, and by descent to the present day.

Literature: Unpublished

The painting was once in the collection of the Neo-Classical painter Andrea Appiani (1754-1817), when it was attributed to Domenichino (1581-1641); one of the items listed in Appiani’s posthumous inventory is a Rinaldo che abbandona Armida with dimensions similar to those of our picture. In 1945, according to the transcription of wording that must have been on the back of the canvas, it was still considered to be by the school of Domenichino. It was Karen Chastagnol who recognised the hand of Nicolas Colombel and the correct dating. 1 The “Classical” tenor of the work – established in 1818 and lasting until the mid-twentieth century – that suggested the authorship of the Bolognese painter, might seem surprising today for an artist we readily classify (no doubt too hastily) as Poussinesque.
In reading the painting we may find interesting motifs relating to Italy. Colombel spent a number of years there, and is documented in Rome between 1685 and 1693, when he returned to Paris and painted the Mars and Rhea Silvia (Paris, École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts), his morceau de reception for the Académie. Independently of the old attribution to Domenichino, the painting displays numerous echoes of Italian art, starting with the old masters, who formed the focus of the studies made by French artists during their sojourn in the Eternal City. Unsurprisingly, close scrutiny of our composition reveals a variety of Italian ricordi. The young love god breaking the bow and arrows with a characteristic movement is a reworking of the man pulling on his leggings in the Battle of Cascina by Michelangelo (1475-1564), while recalling Caravaggio (1571-1610) for the more realistic appearance of the face. The left hand of Armida – dignified in her sculptural pose, and conveying chagrin more than tragic abandonment – supports her head in a borrowing from the celebrated ancient Roman statue of the Sleeping Ariadne (2nd century AD), housed in the sculpture gallery of the Vatican Museums. The figure of Fortune, her hair to the wind, and holding the tiller of a boat, its sail swelling in preparation for departure, invites Rinaldo and his companions with a gesture of her hand – all evidence of the artist’s familiarity with the female allegorical figures of Guido Reni (1575-1642). Rinaldo and those around him, on the other hand, reflect a more “French” type of inspiration: the heroes dressed as Roman generals are certainly found in compositions by Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665), but an even stronger link can be made with the sixteen subjects drawn from Tasso’s Gerusalemme Liberata commissioned in 1639 by the Maréchal d’Estrées for the Hôtel de la Ferté-Senneterre in Paris. 2The antiquarian component so clearly visible in the works of the painters responsible for that project, and especially in the Rinaldo abandoning Armida by Charles Errard (1601/1610-1689) in Bouxwiller (Musée de Bouxwiller et du Pays de Hanau), must have remained in the mind of Colombel, who recalled it here.
However, our painter also added his knowledge of Italian painting of the first half of the seventeenth century, and may have seen the Rinaldo abandoning Armida by Giovanni Lanfranco (1582-1647) painted for Cardinal Sannesi (c. 1557-1621) – a picture that stayed in Rome until the end of the eighteenth century – since his own composition seems to evoke this work in the flat, empty horizon of the sea on the right, and the hilly area that provides the setting of Armida’s palace on the left. 3
To illustrate this episode from Gerusalemme Liberata (Canto XVI, lines 60-63), Colombel sought support from the art of Italy, but more significantly, he wished to set the action in that country: the umbrella pines in the distance – represented only rarely in landscape painting of the period – and the palm tree cannot fail to bring to mind the Eternal City and its nearby coastline. This group of Italian citations, as Karen Chastagnol has suggested, indicates a dating to the artist’s Italian period, shortly before his return to Paris, since it displays stylistic similarities with his morceau de reception painted for the Académie.


1. We are grateful to Karen Chastagnol for her discussion of attribution, dating and history, and for generously sharing this with us. The painting was already included in her unpublished monograph on Nicolas Colombel, on whom she is preparing an exhibition which should include our painting and take place in the near future. We should note, as she has indicated, that a canvas by Nicolas Colombel with this very subject appears in two Parisian sales of 1819-1820: an anonymous sale (messieurs Jamand, Vigneron et al.), Paris, 12 May 1819 and following days, lot 66 (Colombel), and most probably the sale of Mr G., Paris, 25 May 1820 (Colombel), in which it cannot correspond to our painting, if we are to believe the latter’s provenance as certified by Eligio Possenti in 1945.
2. Olivier Bonfait, Jean-Claude Boyer, eds., Autour de Poussin. Idéal classique et épopée baroque entre Paris et Rome, exh. cat., Académie de France à Rome, 30 March – 26 June 2000, pp. 124-137; see pp. 134-135 for the painting of the same subject by Charles Errard.
3. Véronique Damian, Deux tableaux de la collection Sannesi. Tableaux des écoles émilienne et lombarde, Paris, Canesso Gallery, 2006, pp. 16-27.