Voyage of Delights: Fragonard – Alcine Finds Ruggiero in His Chamber

26 May

“….now that nothing restrains
his ardor he gathers her into his arms to begin
their voyage of delights.”

Jean-Honoré Fragonard, Alcine finds Roger in his bedroom, c. 1780, black stone and brown sepia wash, 38,5 x 23,5

I discovered Fragonard’s drawing “Alcine finds Ruggiero in his bedroom” a few months ago and was instantly smitten by it. And now every time I see it again, I find myself overwhelmed by delight. I just love it! I think it is now, if not the favourite, then at least one of the favourite works by Fragonard. Both the style and the theme appeal to my tastes. The drawing shows lovers in an embrace and the background indicated that the setting is – appropriately – the bedroom. Motif of lovers in the privacy of their chamber, giving kisses freely or stealing them, is something we stumble upon often in Fragonard’s work; “The Stolen Kiss” (1788), “The Useless Resistance” (1764-68), “The Lock” (1777), “The Stolen Kiss” (1769), just to name a few. So, the motif of lovers isn’t something new, neither in art in general, nor in Fragonard’s art specifically. Then what is it that appeals to me so strongly about this particular drawing? Ahh… where to start…

Firstly, let us delve into the literary inspiration behind the drawing; the Italian epic poem “Orlando Furioso” written by Ludovico Ariosto and published in its complete form in 1532. Fragonard enjoyed creating works inspired by literature and he made 179 sheets of drawings for the poem “Orlando Furioso” around 1780. The drawing above is just one of those sheets and it shows one scene from Canto VII where Ruggiero succumbs to the love charms of the sorceress Alcine on her love island. The poem described him waiting anxiously in his chamber for Alcine while she, in her chamber, is slowly getting ready for their love union. She knows that in the other chamber Ruggiero is burning with passion for her, but she also knows that that is the part of the thrill of love; waiting will only intensify their “voyage of pleasure”, as the poem says. We must bear in mind that Alcine is a witch of sorts and that Ruggiero is under her spell, so perhaps these kisses are stolen too? Nevertheless, here is the scene as it is described in the poem:

…he leaps from the bed, and now that nothing restrains
his ardor he gathers her into his arms to begin
their voyage of delights. Nothing remains
but for Alcina to take off all that pretty
lace and silk. to tear it would be a pity.

she has neither robe nor petticoat but merely
a filmy peignoir over a filmier gown
so that Ruggiero is able to see clearly
what he has only imagined. he can drown
in loveliness such as this (or very nearly).
he has long ago removed his own
garments, and, as ivy clings to a tree,
they cling to one another and try to be

a single being, straining to touch and taste
such spices and perfumes as do not grow
in india or Arabia’s sandy waste.
who but the two of them can tell of so
sweet an encounter? there, as they embraced,
neither of them could with certainty know
whose tongue was in whose mouth…

(translated by David R. Slavitt)

Isn’t this a perfectly romantic and libertine scene for Fragonard to capture? His drawing has that wonderful, flowing, almost sketchy style which, in my view, perfectly matches the mood of the scene and the motif in question. It makes it seem as if the artist was there, hiding behind the curtain, witnessing the sweet-as-honey moments of lovers’ delights, and capturing the scene immediately with his pencil. The drawing has immediacy and spontaneity; we can imagine that the very next moment the lovers would be in another position; their kisses would fall too fast for Fragonard or any artist to capture. The lines are confident, energetic and expressive; faint and subtle in some places, fading like a movement in a composition, and strong, bold and loud like a bang in other. Their wild passion of the lines matches the palpable passion that can be felt between Ruggiero and Alcine. Still, there is so much tenderness present in the drawing too. Fragonard perfectly balances the two; passion and delicacy.

Ruggiero is sitting on the bed, ecstatic that Alcine has finally arrived to his chamber. He is embracing her sweet body with eagerness, his arms wrapped around her waist, going down… His eyes, although mere dots of colour, have a lovelorn look in them as he gazes up towards her and she, in turn, is gazing down at him. Her beautiful bosom is exposed and her wavy hair is loose and free. In this drawing you can really feel the lines described in the poem: “she has neither robe nor petticoat but merely/ a filmy peignoir over a filmier gown/ so that ruggiero is able to see clearly/ what he has only imagined. he can drown/ in loveliness such as this”. Behind them we see only the contours of the bed and pillows; detailed enough to suggest the setting but it is obvious that Fragonard’s focus was on other things. Perhaps the most beautiful thing about this drawing is its universal language of love; even if we didn’t know the literary background of the drawing, and if we didn’t know the lovers are Alcine and Ruggiero, the drawing would still speak the same language spoken by Klimt’s golden lovers in a kiss, Chagall’s flying blue lovers, and Brancusi’s statue “The Kiss”. The utmost loveliness of this drawing comes from its simplicity and spontaneity, and its expressive and untamed portrayal of love.

3 Responses to “Voyage of Delights: Fragonard – Alcine Finds Ruggiero in His Chamber”

  1. Upside-down Land 26th May 2022 at 4:33 pm #

    Love the image and all you have to say about it. Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. alan 27th May 2022 at 5:26 pm #

    Delightfully sensuous and sensitive depiction. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

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