Orlando Furioso: Magic castles and the vanishing Angelica

Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld (1794-1872), Orlando Furioso (detail) (1822-27), fresco, Casa Massimo, Rome, Italy. Image by Sailko, via Wikimedia Commons.

There have just been two encounters with the sea orc: first Ruggiero rescued Angelica from certain death in its monstrous jaws, but was unable to kill it. He therefore used his Magic Shield to put it to sleep, before flying away with her on his hippogriff. Then Orlando rescued Olimpia from the same fate, but ingeniously wedged the beast’s jaws open, and it bled to death from the wounds he inflicted inside its mouth.

Although both these episodes borrowed heavily from the myth of Perseus and Andromeda, each of the three is different, which should make it easier to distinguish them in paintings.

Angelica gave Ruggiero the slip just as he had removed his armour and was hoping to make love to her. He then lost the hippogriff, and discovered a giant trying to kill his real love, Bradamante. He scared the giant away, at the cost of its carrying off the woman knight on its shoulders, leaving Ruggiero to pursue them.

Local reaction to Orlando’s slaying of the orc is odd, as the local inhabitants, who have lived in fear of the monster, decide to please Proteus by throwing the knight into the sea. Instead of receiving the thanks that he might have expected, Orlando comes under attack. He is forced to fight them, and quickly despatches thirty of them with a mere ten strokes of his sword.

As Orlando turns to free Olimpia and tries to keep the mob around him at bay, the King of Ireland’s army shows up. They’ve been razing all the buildings and slaughtering the Ebudans, and quickly kill the violent mob. Orlando is unaware of Olimpia’s tragic story of her betrayal by Bireno, which she tells him as she is saved at last.

Oberto, the King of Ireland, arrives and recognises Orlando as the slayer of the orc from his covering of blood. The knight explains to the king the tragic situation of Olimpia, bringing smiles to her tear-stained face as he tells of her valour and devotion. Oberto instantly falls in love with Olimpia, which Ariosto reinforces with eight stanzas describing the beauty of her body. At the end of this, Oberto promises to go with Olimpia to Holland to wreak vengeance on her errant husband. His troops locate some clothing for her, leaving Orlando to get on with his quest. He is now puzzled, as he thought that he was about to rescue his beloved Angelica rather than Olimpia. He stays a day in Ireland as he makes his way back to France, driven by his love for Angelica.

The King of Ireland is true to his word, and takes his troops to Frisia, Zealand and Holland for Olimpia, and he has Bireno killed. Oberto then marries Olimpia, making her his queen.

Orlando spends the winter quietly, then the following Spring he resumes his search for the missing Angelica. Ariosto compares this with Ceres’ search for her daughter Persephone. During this, Orlando comes across a damsel being taken away by a knight on a horse. He challenges the knight, who doesn’t stop to respond, galloping on until he reaches a fine old palace. Orlando searches indoors in vain, then checks the park around it. He still hears the damsel’s voice crying out, so goes back inside and repeats his search of its rooms.

Ruggiero was also in pursuit of his beloved Bradamante, who was last seen being carried off by a giant. The latter enters a large building, where the pair disappear. Just as with Orlando in his quest for Angelica, Ruggiero searches the rooms many times, but always draws a blank. This is because he is searching a Magic Castle which has been conjured up by the sorceror Atlante, in an effort to prevent Ruggiero from achieving his ambition.

Meanwhile, Angelica is still in her cave, in which she had hidden from Ruggiero’s desires. She finds a mare and rides away looking for a knight to escort her, but travels through regions in which there are no men. She arrives at Atlante’s Magic Castle, in which Ruggiero and others are being held prisoner. But as she is still wearing the Magic Ring, Atlante is unaware of her presence.

As she is able to see all the knights who have become ensnared by Atlante’s magic, Angelica isn’t sure which to choose to help her. Two of the three there – Ruggiiero and Orlando – are fully clad in armour, but Ferraù, who has also fallen victim, has sworn that he’ll wear no helmet other than Orlando’s. Each of them (apart from Angelica) is completely unaware of the others, and each engaged on a fruitless search within the castle.

Gustave Doré (1832–1883), The Palace is Full of Famous Knights Who Constantly Seek Their Host in Vain (Canto 12:11) (c 1878), engraving, dimensions and location not known. Wikimedia Commons.

Angelica lures the three to ride their horses after her, so leaving Atlante’s magic powers. Once they have travelled far enough away, she replaces the Magic Ring in her mouth and becomes invisible again. This confuses them, and they start searching the wood for her. As there’s only one path along which she could have travelled, Orlando leads them on until they’re thoroughly lost.

Ferraù then challenges the others, and refuses to share any path with them. This escalates until he is in combat – without a helmet – with Orlando. Ferraù is invulnerable, except in his navel, which is heavily armoured. Orlando is also invulnerable, except in the soles of his feet. So the battle between them is inconclusive, despite their armour being cut to shreds by the blows. Ruggiero rides away in search of Angelica, who stays and watches invisibly until she can bear it no longer. She then takes Orlando’s helmet and rides off.

Ferraù and Orlando conclude that it is Ruggiero who has stolen the helmet, and ride off after him. When they reach a fork in the path, Ruggiero and Orlando take one path to a valley, while Ferraù takes the other to a hillside. Angelica rests by a cool fountain instead of pressing on, where she hangs the helmet on a branch. Shortly, Ferraù shows up, and Angelica repeats her vanishing trick just as he thinks that he has caught her at last. The knight then sees Orlando’s helmet, and puts it on his head.

Angelica is still nowhere to be seen, so Ferraù, his oath satisfied that he would wear Orlando’s helmet, turns and heads towards the siege of Paris.

Angelica now regrets having taken Orlando’s helmet and the untoward consequences, and heads to the east. She comes across a wounded youth who is lying on the ground between the dead bodies of his companions – a story to which Ariosto returns later.

Orlando has in the meantime returned to become an anonymous knight wearing an ordinary helmet, among the warring troops. He approaches the siege of Paris, when he meets two African squadrons who have been harrying the forces of Charlemagne through the winter. Orlando and the King of Tremisen, Alzirdo, fight one another, the king succumbing quickly to Orlando’s lance. Orlando is now surrounded by enemy forces who attack, but cuts them down until their bodies are piled high around him, and his opponents are routed.

Orlando heads back on his quest for Angelica, until he reaches a high cliff in which there’s a light. He makes his way through dense undergrowth to reach it, then climbs the cliff to peer inside the cave within, which is emitting the light. Within that cramped cave he sees a damsel of about fifteen years of age, whose eyes are filled with tears. She is being scolded by an older woman, but as Orlando enters they become silent. He asks them what is the matter, but the young woman can’t speak for her sobbing.

The young woman, Isabella, is the King of Spain’s daughter, who fell in love with Zerbino, the son of the King of Scotland, who was visiting for a tournament. She being a Saracen and he a Christian, she realised that her father wouldn’t agree to their marriage, so decided to elope with him. Zerbino arranged for her to be collected by a ship captained by Odorico, and she was spirited away in the dead of night.

Once they were at sea, they soon encountered heavy weather, and were blown onto rocks near La Rochelle. Odorico saved their lives by taking her ashore in a ship’s boat, but the ship itself sank with all hands. It also contained all Isabella’s jewellery and possessions.

Gustave Doré (1832–1883), Isabella and the False Odorico Escape the Wreck of Their Ship (Canto 13:17) (c 1878), engraving, dimensions and location not known. Wikimedia Commons.

Once ashore, though, Odorico proved treacherous. He left for dead a longstanding friend of Isabella, then tried to seduce her. When she refused him, he tried to rape her, but she ripped his beard and face.

This was overheard by a band of pirates. When they approached, Odorico fled, and the pirates dumped her in that cave, as they tried to sell her to a merchant.

As Isabella finishes her story, the pirates turn up at the cave. They’re surprised to see Orlando, who quickly throws a burning brand at one of them, striking him in the face, blinding him in his one remaining eye. The knight then throws a large rock slab at the pirates, crushing several of them underneath it. The survivors flee the cave immediately, together with the old crone who had been guarding Isabella. Orlando rescues the young damsel, and they travel on.

Turning to Bradamante, she had gone to Marseilles, where she is leading the fight against ‘pagans’. She fears for Ruggiero’s fate in the hands of Alcina, so consults the good sorceress Melissa, who reassures her that he is safe. Melissa explains how Atalante had held him captive in his Magic Castle, and that Bradamante must go there and kill the evil sorceror, who will disguise himself in the form of Ruggiero.

To encourage Bradamante in her task, Melissa again recounts the future of her descendants, this time listing the famous women. These include Isabella and Beatrice d’Este, Beatrice of Hungary, Eleanor of Aragon, and Lucrezia Borgia. Bradamante heads off to find and kill Atlante, but she soon comes across Ruggiero apparently about to be crushed by two giants. She ignores Melissa’s warnings, and follows this false Ruggiero into Atlante’s Magic Castle. She then spends her time looking for Ruggiero, just as the three knights who had been captive there before her.

Agramante, preparing his attack on Charlemagne in Paris, now orders all his troops for a review. Ariosto opens Canto fourteen by telling us of the innumerable dead in the wars between Africa and Spain against France. He briefly considers the French forces, then turns to Agramante’s review of Charlemagne’s enemies. Ariosto embroiders this long list of leaders with brief anecdotes about their past.

Among them is Mandricardo, who is renowned for his many glorious deeds. He is told of the astonishing success of a knight in black – Orlando when he met with African forces recently – and resolves to find this knight and fight him. When Mandricardo comes across a group of knights escorting the daughter of the King of Granada, who refuse to show the sleeping princess, he kills them all. The princess, Doralice, is terrified by the sight of the blood-stained knight, but Mandricardo dismisses her maids and companions, and abducts her. He abandons his quest for the knight in black, and Doralice’s fear subsides, so that she becomes more receptive to his advances.

When night falls, Mandricardo and Doralice are given shelter and rest in a hunble cottage, although Ariosto cunningly refuses to reveal what might have taken place between them that night, except that when they rose in the morning they were both more content. The couple then wander on together, coming across two knights and a fair maid who are resting together on a riverbank.

Back in the war, Agramante has heard that English troops have crossed the Channel to come and reinforce Charlmagne’s forces. After consulting with his commanders, he decides to make an assault against the city of Paris and bring its walls down before those reinforcements arrive.

On the day before the assault, Charlemagne instructs all the priests to say Mass, and for all the people to take communion, as if the following day would be their last. His prayers are answered by God, who chooses the Archangel Michael to go to Paris in aid of Charlemagne. God tells Michael to seek out Silence to help him, then to find Discord and for her to use her flint and tinder among the Moors.

Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld (1794-1872), Orlando Furioso (detail) (1822-27), fresco, Casa Massimo, Rome, Italy. Image by Sailko, via Wikimedia Commons.

Michael thinks about this as he flies down, and seeks Silence in monasteries and churches.

Gustave Doré (1832–1883), The Archangel Michael, Commanded to Find Silence, Tries in Vain in Monasteries (Canto 14:80) (c 1878), engraving, dimensions and location not known. Wikimedia Commons.

He is surprised that he can’t find it anywhere, nor Piety, Humility, Quietude, Peace or Love. Instead are Greed, Avarice, Cruelty, Wrath, Pride, Envy and Sloth, although he could at least find Discord. Finding Fraud, Michael asks her where he might find Silence. She says that Silence has crossed over to dwell with Treachery and Homicide.

Michael finds Silence in the House of Sleep, near Sloth and Laziness. He asks Silence to come with him to enable Rinaldo and his troops to approach Paris without the Saracens becoming aware.

Gustave Doré (1832–1883), Michael Finds the Abode of Silence, Who is Accompanied by Sleep, Idleness, Sloth and Forgetfulness (Canto 14:93) (c 1878), engraving, dimensions and location not known. Wikimedia Commons.

Principal Characters

Agramante, King of Africa, who is leading the war against Charlemagne in revenge for the killing of his father, Troiano. Non-Christian.

Alcina, sister of Morgana and King Arthur, a treacherous and evil sorceress.

Angelica, beautiful daughter of the ruler of Cathay, who is loved and pursued by innumerable knights both Christian and not.

Atlante, an evil magician who is in fact an old man, but abducts people to keep in his magic steel castle, where he tries to protect Ruggiero from his future.

Bradamante, Rinaldo’s sister, “the celebrated Maid”, a brave Christian knight who is the equal of her brother. She is loved by Ruggiero.

Charlemagne, Charles the Great, Christian King of France.

Doralice, daughter of the King of Granada.

Ferraù, nephew to Marsilio, King of Spain, and a non-Christian.

Isabella, daughter of the King of Spain, who falls in love with Zerbino, son of the King of Scotland, and tries to elope to him.

Mandricardo, King of Tartary and son of Agricane, an ‘oriental’ pagan knight.

Melissa, a pupil and follower of Merlin, and a good sorceress.

Oberto, the King of Ireland, who marries Olimpia after having her treacherous husband killed.

Olimpia, daughter of the Count of Holland, and wife of the unfaithful Bireno.

Orlando, the hero, Charlemagne’s nephew and his most outstanding paladin.

Ruggiero, son of the King of Reggio, a non-Christian knight who is in love with Bradamante.

The artists

Gustave Doré (1832–1883) was the leading French illustrator of the nineteenth century, whose paintings are still relatively unknown. Having produced large sets of illustrations for classics such as Dante’s Divine Comedy earlier in his career, he started work on a set for Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso in the late 1870s, for publication in 1879. These are the last major illustrations which he made. This article looks at his paintings.

Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld (1794-1872) was a German painter who trained at the Vienna Academy, from where he went to Rome in 1815 to join the Nazarene movement there, with Johann Friedrich Overbeck and others. He was involved in the campaign to re-introduce traditional fresco painting, and in 1822 was commissioned to paint frescoes depicting Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso in the entrance hall to the Villa Massimo in Rome. He completed these by 1827, when he returned to Munich to paint frescoes for the new palace there showing scenes from the Nibelungenlied. He later turned to Biblical illustrations and designs for stained glass windows.


Wikipedia on Ariosto
Wikipedia on Orlando Furioso

Barbara Reynolds (translator) (1975, 1977) Orlando Furioso, parts 1 and 2, Penguin. ISBNs 978 0 140 44311 0, 978 0 140 44310 3. Verse translation with extensive introduction and notes.
Guido Waldman (translator) (1974) Orlando Furioso, Oxford World’s Classics. ISBN 978 0 19 954038 9. Prose translation.