Boulogne's Rinaldo and Armida, painted in 1704 and exhibited in the Salon of that year, was possibly inspired by Domenichino's picture of the same subject in the Louvre. Domenichino's work would have been known to Boulogne, as it had been acquired by King Louis XIV in 1785 and is recorded as being at the Chteau of Meudon around 1700, at a time when Boulogne himself was involved in the decoration of the castle. It is not surprising to find Boulogne looking to the Bolognese masters. As has often been noted, his mythological paintings owe a large debt to Albani, Reni and Domenichino.
The subject of Rinaldo and Armida is taken from Canto 16 of Gerusalemme liberata (1581), the epic poem by Torquato Tasso, depicting the story of Christian knights who went to liberate Christ's tomb in Jerusalem. Rinaldo has been seduced by the beauty of the magician Armida, who keeps him in the magic garden of her enchanted palace. The lovers are being spied upon from behind the trees by Ubaldo and Carlo, the two Danish knights who have come to release their companion Rinaldo from Armida's spell.
Boulogne's picture served as modello for a part of the Mtamorphoses tapestry executed at the Gobelins factory from 1704 onwards. As well as Boulogne, compositions by his contemporaries Nicolas Bertin, Charles de la Fosse and Antoine Coypel were also used. Three artists are recorded as having adapted Boulogne's Rinaldo and Armida in a cartoon: Yvart fils for the figures, Charles Chastelain for the landscape, and Jean-Baptiste Belin de Fontenay for the flowers (M. Fenailles, Etat Gnral des Tapisseries de la Manufacture des Gobelins depuis son origine, jusqu' nos jours, Paris, 1904, pp. 123-124). It is likely that Boulogne intended the composition for the tapestry, as noted by Colin Bailey in the 1985 exhibition catalogue: 'Yet the garlands of flowers strewn across Rinaldo's armour and draped around his waist are not only a reference to Armida's magic chains of 'Woodbines, Lillies, and Roses sweet', they also serve a decorative purpose in keeping with the function of the picture itself'.
Bailey suggests that the present picture remained in the artist's possession after having been exhibited in the Salon and used for the tapestry. It could then have passed into the collection of the artist's son Jean de Boulogne, whose Inventaire aprs dcs mentions a Rinaldo and Armida but with no indication of dimensions.
Another version of the composition, with small differences, was offered at Sotheby's, London, 17 April 1991, lot 54. A small scale variant of that composition, illustrated in the 1985-86 exhibition catalogue at Stair Sainty Matthiesen, is in a private collection in America and a preparatory drawing for the reclining figure of Rinaldo is in the J.B. Speed Art Museum, Louisville, Kentucky.
Louis de Boulogne had a long and successful career. The second son of the painter Louis de Boulogne (1604-1674) and brother of the painter Bon de Boulogne (1649-1717), he travelled to Italy from 1675-1679. On his return, he was commissioned by the King to decorate the royal residences of the Trianon, the Menagerie and Meudon. Named as Director of the Acadmie in 1722, he was a rare example of a French painter being ennobled (1724).