Leiden Arts in Society Blog

Savage and Ravage

Savage and Ravage

Today we continue our journey into madness in following and observing some strange transformations happening to Orlando.

From civilization to savagery

As we have seen in our last blog post (Engrave the Fury!), Orlando expresses his madness very violently. This change does not happen suddenly, but it evolves step by step in a slow metamorphosis from civilized man to beast and worse...

Orlando Furioso, Valgrisi, Venezia, 1568, canto XXIII (details)

 

In canto XXIII, Orlando sees the names of Angelica and Medoro engraved together on trees and on the walls of a cave. He already has some doubts and feels sad, but his fury really begins when a shepherd tells him the story of the love between Angelica and Medoro.

On the first illustration we can clearly see this progression that will lead Orlando from civilization to savagery. In the first picture, we can see on the same page Orlando (see the red square) first dressed like a regular knight when he arrives at the house of the shepherd and then taking off his clothes and chasting after peasants. The reason for this transformation appears in the middle of the illustration (yellow circle): the two names of Angelica and Medoro engraved together in the stone. Pay attention to the helmet, the sword and the shield laying down on the floor. Orlando is not just abandoning his armour but also all his links to chivalry and its values.

Orlando against peasants; Orlando Furioso, Valgrisi, Venezia, 1568, canto XXIV (details)

 

Orlando's uncivilized way of being is underlined by his opposition with the peasants. They are clothed, using instruments to fight him while he is naked with very messy hair and beard and a cruel expression on his face. Opposed to the group, he is shown alone, in a marginal position.

 

The Human Beast?

This first consideration can guide us to the idea that, no longer a man, Orlando is now more like an animal. In fact, in the illustration taken from canto XXIV we can see him fighting with a bear, and notice that it's kind of difficult to make the difference between him and the animal. They are quite the same size on the picture, and Orlando looks as strong and hairy as the animal. It make sense if we do remember that in the medieval tradition savage people, also called homo sylvestris, are regurlarly described as bears. In this part of the story he definitely left the civilization for the savage world.

Orlando fighting with a bear; Orlando Furioso,  Valgrisi, Venezia, 1568, canto XXIV (details)

 

If Orlando is as strong as a bear, then we can't really compare him too an animal. In fact, as he destroyed all representation of human order, he destroyed Nature's order as well.  At the end of canto XXIII, he is destroying trees with the engraved names of Medor and Angelica, and making the fountains dirty.

Orlando destroying a tree; Orlando furioso, Venezia, Gabriel Giolito de Ferrari, 1542, canto XXIII

 

In this episode Orlando not only destroys a symbol of love but more generally a symbol of harmony. The landscape becomes a vivid representation of his internal disorder. He blindly kills all living creatures he enounters, such as shepherds, peasants, and also a horse that he drowns in the river in canto XXX. Underlying his blind madness and also a violent cruelty, he carries the horse. This representation appears several time in different editions :

Orlando carrying a dead horse; Orlando Furioso, Venezia, Vincenzo Valgrisi,  1558, canto XXX

Same representation of Orlando in a earliest edition; Orlando Furioso, Venezia, Nicolò d'Aristotile di Ferrara detto Zoppino,  1530, canto XXIX

 

Some kind of monster

More than a beast, in this part of the story, Orlando can be seen as a monster. The comparison that we have already made with the homo sylvestris guides us to another creature: the giant often describedas a savage character carrying a sledge hammer as a weapon just like Orlando in canto XXX :

Savage men; museo dell'Uomo selvatico, Xvie siècle, Val Gerola

Orlando on a horse with a sledge hammer;  Orlando Furioso, Venezia, Vincenzo Valgrisi,  1558, canto XXX

 

Less than human, less than beast, Orlando becomes a real fury monster, a vivid expression of violence. So, what will Orlando destroy next? How can he be saved now? And by whom? You will see it, in our next blog post: “Fury road”.

 

If you want to know more:

Video of the episode of Orlando's fury represented in the Rai

 

© Marion Bracq and Leiden Arts in Society Blog, 2016. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Marion Bracq and Leiden Arts in Society Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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