Erminia is one of the most famous and depicted characters of the epic poem Jerusalem Delivered, or The Liberation of Jerusalem by Italian poet Torquato Tasso. It is a largely mystify version of the First Crusade in which the Christian knights, led by Godfrey of Bouillon, battle the Muslims in order to take Jerusalem. The poem was remarkably successful in its time, many parts of the story were so popular that inspired painters all over Europe, especially before the French Revolution and the Romantism, providing stories that combine love, violence, and an exotic setting.
The poem was published for the first time in 1581 and belongs to the Italian Renaissance tradition of the romantic epic poem; in which Tasso used elements inspired directly by Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso and indirectly by Homer and Virgil. The conflicts between Christians and Muslims as a subject in literature and art at that moment, had a topical resonance of the period when the Ottoman Empire was advancing through Eastern Europe.
The poem does not present much resemblance to the actual history or cultural setting of the Crusades. It presents the initial disunity and setbacks of the Christians and their ultimate success in taking Jerusalem in 1099. The main historical leaders of the First Crusade feature, however most of the poem is concerned with romantic sub-plots involving fictional characters. Tancredi, is the only character identified with a historical figure, he is Tancred, Prince of Galilee. The three most important female characters (Clorinda, Erminia, Armida) begin as Muslims, but after a romantic entanglement with Christian knights, that eventually converted to Christianism. All three are women of action, two of them fight in battles and the third is a sorceress.
And there are the love stories of these fictional characters that were more often depicted in art, most of them by Italian and French artists of the Baroque, shortly after the poem was published and almost all scenes take place outdoors, in an idealised pastoral landscape.
In the poem, Erminia is the Princess of Antioch, who abandoned her people and her faith forever. She falls in love with Tancredi, a Christian knight and to help him, she betrays her own people.
Eventually she finds out that he is in love with Clorinda, a Muslim warrior maiden, the jealousy made her steal Clorinda’s armour. Erminia leaves the city wearing the armour of her rival, in an attempt to find Tancredi, but she was attacked by Christian soldiers who mistaken her by Clorinda. In order to escape she flees into the forest where a family of shepherds took care of her.
Later in the poem, Erminia appears among the ladies of the sorceress Armida. She, herself became a witch. When Tancredi is dangerously wounded in combat, she uses her powers and heals him, by cutting off a portion of her hair to bind is wounds. This is for sure, the scene most represented of her story.
Even tough Erminia seems to be a strong and powerful woman, she lost her self-control for jealousy and for love; putting herself in danger by leaving the city wearing the armour of her rival, with the only intention to meet the man she loved.
Unfortunately, I could not find any representation of her story by among the works of women artists, I would love to see how women would depict her and her story.