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Landscape with Erminia recognised by 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 Arriving among the Shepherds (inv. 283), 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 subject represents Erminia who, having taken off her armour, previously donned to go to the enemy camp and heal the wounds of her beloved, is welcomed by the shepherds in an idyllic landscape. In the background, among ruins, rocks and trees, the outline of Mount Circeo is visible.


Object details

oil on copper
cm 21 x 26

Salvator Rosa, late eighteenth century, 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. 27, nos 20-21; purchased by the Italian State, 1902

Conservation and Diagnostic
  • 1905-1906 Luigi Bartolucci (disinfestazione);
  • 1952 AugustoVermehren (pulitura);
  • 1958 Alvaro Esposti (pulitura, stuccatura, ripresa di colore e nuova verniciatura; rimozione della vernice).


This painting is first documented in the Borghese Collection in 1693, when it was listed in the inventory for that year as ‘an oval painting about one palm high with a landscape and small figures, carved frame, copper support, 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, no. 154, gilt frame. Uncertain.’

In 1790, the present 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, followed by Ludovico Mattioli (Piancastelli 1891) and then Herman van Swanevelt (A. Venturi 1893; Longhi 1928). That attribution was rejected in 1959 by Paola della Pergola, who attributed the work to Van Ryssen, a name accepted by other scholars (Herrmann Fiore 2006).

The painting depicts a classical landscape with a woman in the middle wearing clothing identical to that beneath the armour of the figure in the pendant painting, Erminia, one of the heroines of Torquato Tasso’s Jerusalem Delivered. According to legend, the young woman left the walls of Jerusalem wearing Clorinda’s cuirass, in an attempt to reach the enemy camp and care for her wounded beloved. But when she was spotted by some sentries, she escaped and took refuge in an idyllic village inhabited by animals and shepherds. The painting depicts the moment after Erminia’s arrival among the shepherds (inv. 283), when, having laid down her weapons, she is preparing for a new life, hoping in vain to forget the pangs of love.

As in the other painting, the scene is constructed on two levels: the clearing in the foreground, where the young woman sits with a few shepherds, and the view of Mount Circeo in the distance, indicated by the boy standing in the middle of the painting. The two levels are linked by lush vegetation and classical ruins. A tree on the left and a hill on the right frame the scene, like theatre curtains.

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

  • X. Barbier de Montault, Les Musées et Galeries de Rome, Rome 1870, p. 357; 
  • G. Piancastelli, Catalogo dei quadri della Galleria Borghese, in Archivio Galleria Borghese, 1891, p. 218; 
  • 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. 289; 
  • 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, p. 186, n. 277; 
  • 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. 96.