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Landscape with Erminia meeting the Shepherds

Ryssen Cornelis van

(active in the second half of the 17th century)

This work on copper was a pendant together with the Landscape with Erminia recognised by the Shepherds (inv. 289), attributed in ancient inventories to a certain ‘Cornelio Satiro’, identified by critics as Cornelius van Ryssen, a painter from Flanders who moved in the Bentvueghels circle in Rome, and from whom he clearly took his nickname.

The scene depicts an armed woman – identified as Erminia – portrayed in the company of a shepherd and some children. In the background is the recognisable outline of Mount Circeo.

Object details

1667 circa
oil on copper
cm 21 x 26

Salvator Rosa, 30 x 36 x 5.5 cm



Rome, Borghese Collection, 1693 (Inv. 1693, room VIII, nos 8, 13; Della Pergola 1959); Inv. 1790, room X, nos 17-18; Inventario Fidecommissario, 1833, p. 28, nos 20-21; purchased by the Italian State, 1902

Conservation and Diagnostic
  • 1958 Alvaro Esposti (restauro completo; rimozione della vernice).


This painting is first documented in the Borghese Collection in 1693, when it was described in the inventory for that year as ‘an oval painting on copper about one palm high of a landscape and figures in a carved frame, by Cornelio Benincasa’. It is marked no. 154 on the back, which is the same number given in the 1693 inventory in the description of the Landscape with Classical Ruins, Figures and Mount Circeo (inv. 289), the pendant of the present work. They were recorded as: ‘Two oval copper paintings with landscapes and figures of no. 154 gilt frame. Uncertain.’

In 1790, this landscape was attributed to ‘Cornelio Satiro’, identified by Paola della Pergola (1959) as Cornelis van Ryssen (Poelenburg of van Ryssen, according to Orbaan 1911), a Flemish painter documented in Rome in 1667, the year in which he became a member of the Bentvueghels (see Della Pergola, op. cit.). According to the scholar, the name used to indicate Cornelis in 1693, ‘Benincasa’, was cited by mistake by the person who compiled the document, probably confusing him with a member of the Benincasa family from Siena, which was in a certain sense a rival of the Borghese.

In 1833, the painting was attributed to Jan ‘Velvet’ Brueghel, after which the attribution was changed to Ludovico Mattioli (Piancastelli 1891) and then Herman van Swanevelt (A. Venturi 1893; Longhi 1928). That attribution was rejected in 1912 by Giulio Cantalamessa, who instead proposed Claude Lorrain. In 1959, Paola della Pergola attributed the painting on copper to Van Ryssen, a name accepted by other scholars (Herrmann Fiore 2006).

The painting depicts a classical landscape with the figure of an armed woman, identifiable as Erminia, one of the main characters in Torquato Tasso’s Jerusalem Delivered. According to legend, the young woman left the walls of Jerusalem wearing Clorinda’s armour, in an attempt to reach the enemy camp and care for her wounded beloved. But when she was spotted by a few sentries, she escaped and took refuge in an idyllic village inhabited by animals and shepherds.

Like in the pendant painting (inv. 289), the scene is constructed on two levels: a clearing in the foreground, where a seated shepherd is surrounded by a few small boys, and a mountain in the background, possibly Circeo. The two are joined in the middle by a group of painstakingly described tall trees, which give the painting a feeling of verticality.

The choice of copper for the support, which lends the hues more gloss and shine, is directly linked to the painter’s northern background.

Antonio Iommelli

  • G. Piancastelli, Catalogo dei quadri della Galleria Borghese, in Archivio Galleria Borghese, 1891, p. 218;
  • G. Morelli, Italian Painters. The Borghese and Doria Pamphili Galleries, London 1892, p. 247;
  • A. Venturi, Il Museo e la Galleria Borghese, Roma 1893, p. 148;
  • J.A.F. Orbaan, Bescheiden in Italie omtrent Nederländsche Kunstenaars en Geleerden, I, Gravenhage 1911, p. 245;
  • G. Cantalamessa, Note manoscritte al Catalogo di A. Venturi del 1893, Arch. Gall. Borghese, 1911-1912, n. 283;
  • R. Longhi, Precisioni nelle Gallerie Italiane, I, La R. Galleria Borghese, Roma 1928, p. 202;
  • P. della Pergola, La Galleria Borghese. I Dipinti, II, Roma 1959, pp. 185-186, n. 276;
  • P. della Pergola, L’Inventario Borghese del 1693 (I), in “Arte Antica e Moderna”, XXVI, 1964, p. 212;
  • K. Herrmann Fiore, Galleria Borghese Roma scopre un tesoro. Dalla pinacoteca ai depositi un museo che non ha più segreti, San Giuliano Milanese 2006, p. 94.