Paolo de Matteis was an important figure in the transitional period of Neapolitan art between the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, moving away from the Baroque to a more classical style. He received his early training in the studio of Luca Giordano, before moving to Rome by 1683, where he was strongly influenced by the work of Carlo Maratta. He went to Naples on the appointment of his patron, the Marqués del Carpio, as Viceroy of Naples, in 1683. His visit to Paris in 1702-5 confirmed him in his classical approach to painting. He returned to Naples, which became part of the Austrian Empire in the War of the Spanish Succession of 1701-14. He found his reputation growing as a result of the patronage he received from the Austrian Viceroys, including work for the Emperor Joseph I, for whom he painted an altarpiece with Saint John Nepomuk and King Wenceslaus for the chapel of the Hofburg, Vienna, still in situ today. He also worked for Popes Innocent XIII and Benedict XIII, painting for the latter an altarpiece with The Virgin and Child appearing to Saint Dominic, in the Orsini Chapel of Santa Maria sopra Minerva, Rome, also still in situ.
This picture was originally one of a pair, and its pendant Olindo and Sofronia rescued by Clorinda, now in the Chrysler Museum, Norfolk, Virginia, is indistinctly dated 1692 or 1695, a period when the artist was strongly influenced by Luca Giordano. The subjects of the pair are taken from Torquato Tasso's epic poem Gerusalemme Liberata, which describes the capture of Jerusalem in the First Crusade. In this story, Tancred, during the assault on Jerusalem, has fought Argantes, an Egyptian ambassador to the city, in single combat. Argantes is slain and Tancred lies severely wounded. His armour-bearer, Vafrino, has fetched Erminia, the daughter of a former king of Antioch, who loves Tancred, and who nurses the stricken knight.