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Pen & Ink Portraits :

ORLANDO IL FURIOSO by Ludovico Ariosto

I took up the project of transcribing in pen & ink a series of 16th-century engravings published as illustrations of Ludovico ARIOSTO's poem of ORLANDO IL FURIOSO (The Madness of Orlando), describing the various heroic deeds, love affairs, and magical acrobatics of the soldiers of Charlemagne during the early 800s A.D., when he fought off the Saracen armies near the Pyrenees.

This exercise required more than photographic "copying" of the original engravings of these so-called TWELVE PEERS of FRANCE. Because in the pen and ink medium all marks are unique and final, the eye and the hand of the artist have to be in simple and focused sync with the understanding so that they translate what the intellect understands from looking at the original into a paraphrase of that original in the best manner possible.

I liken this process to that of translating from one language, say Spanish, to another, for example English, where the aim is to convey the exact meaning of the original word or phrase, but in the translator's own words --- avoiding rigid, stilted language, and aiming to produce a natural and accurate equivalent of the initial word or phrase.

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La Pluma y el Tintero

My illustrations on this page were all made with the old-stylus nib pen, "dipped" inside an inkwell. The precision of the ink line goes without saying. Light pencil lines often, but not always, guide me in the ink drawing process.


In Ludovico Ariosto's epic poem, this knight, whose name literally means"bragadocius," is synonimous with great force. One of the most salient feats of this Saracen warrior is his obtaining of Orlando's sword, Durlindana, and this success is followed by his stealing of Orlando's fabled steed, Baiardo.


La bella e valorosa Bradamante è paladina di Francia, sorella di Rinaldo e cugina di Orlando. Bradamante è innamorata del pagano Ruggiero, che il mago Atlante, suo tutore, cerca di proteggere dall'amore. Bradamante. Aiutata dalla Maga Melissa, che l'ha liberata dalla buca in cui il traditore Pinabello l'ha fatta cadere, dopo aver scoperto che appartiene ad una casata nemica, scopre che Ruggiero è tenuto prigioniero da Atlante nel suo palazzo.


Astolfo entra in scena transformato in alvero dalla maga Alcina. Con il suo cavallo Rabicano he can fly faster than an arrow. One of his biggest contests is against the giant Caligorante.


Nei poemi cavallereschi Brandimarte e Fiordiligi si ritrovano prima come schiavi: allevati nel castello di Rocca Silvana, una volta che hanno compreso la loro regale discendenza, decidono di sposarsi. Si convertono al cristianesimo e diventano amici di Orlando: Brandimarte si unirà all'esercito cristiano per combattere i nemici saraceni. Alla morte di Brandimarte, avvenuta per mano di Gradasso nel triplice duello a Lipadusa, segue quella di Fiordiligi, per il dolore.


Re saraceno dei Tartari e imperatore di Mongolia, Mandricardo è figlio di Agricane: alleato di Agramante, è intenzionato a vendicare la morte del padre, ucciso da Orlando. Innamoratosi della bella Doralice, promessa sposa di Rodomonte, la rapisce e si scontra col rivale in amore in un combattimento che terminerà senza vincitori né vinti. Mandricardo affronta poi Zerbino, riuscendo a ucciderl e la sua morte causerà grande afflizione in Doralice, che aveva scoperto di amare il suo rapitore.


Principe ereditario di Scozia, va alla giostra di Baiona; qui conosce la saracena Isabella, se ne innamora, la rapisce, e riuisce a far diventare il rapimento in un grandissimo amore reciproco. Il giovane parte poi per Parigi con un gran numero di cavalieri al seguito, intenzionato a portare aiuto a Carlo Magno che è assediato dai saraceni. In seguito Zerbino rimane coinvolto in varie disavventure per gli intrighi della perfida vecchia Gabrina, rischiando persino di venire condannato a morte.


Moro, re di Algeri e di Sarza.Ha un'armatura di scaglie di drago.Doveva sposare Doralice, ma Mandricardo gliela rapisce. Duella con Mandricardo per Doralice. Isabella gli fa credere di conoscere una pozione che rende invulnerabili, e lo invita a provarla su di lei. Rodomonte uccide così involontariamente Isabella, e costruisce u mausoleo per lei. Allora decide di sfidare tutti i cavalieri che passano di lì. Passa di lì anche Orlando pazzo. I due si azzuffano a mani nude.


Cugino e rivale in amore di Orlando, al quale contende la bella Angelica, Rinaldo in principio odia Angelica, ma in seguito la situazione si ribalta. In testa porta l'elmo del gigante MAMBRINO, che lui fa invulnerabile,


Ariosto has these words to say about this knight's tale: “Io non credo che fabula si conte, che più di questa istoria bella fosse.” After his beloved female knight Bradamante charms Spanish Fiordispina to fall in love with her as a he, Ricciardetto wears female garb to enamor Fiordispina and thus opens the narrative to this form of love, certainly scandalous to its audience. Fiordispina's name alludes to the inseparability of the rose from the thorn in this type of eros.


The love madness of this hero, one of the 12 Peers of Charlemagne in his war against Saracens Agramante (Africa) and Marsilio, (Zaragoza)makes his chase after the beautiful Angelica one of the main threads of this epic poem, written in Tuscan Italian in "golden" octaves rhyme. Suspecting her of infidelity with Medoro, the hero's chase after the girl intertwines with his magical quest for honor in Charles' eyes, and with the tale of the origins of the House of Este in Ferrara.


Marfisa is the sister of Ruggiero but was separated from him in early childhood. She becomes queen of India and fights as a warrior for the Saracens, taking part in the siege of the fortress Albracca until her sword is stolen by Brunello. She falls in love with Ruggiero, unaware who he is until Atlantes reveals their background. Learning that her parents were Christian, she converts to the faith and joins the Emperor Charlemagne's army against the Saracens.


Ruggiero and Marfisa were twin siblings, descendants of Trojan Hector, separated at birth on the coast of Lybia. The boy is brought up, invisible to all human eyes, in a castle. Falling in love with Bradamante, he converts to the Frankish side. He flies on the Hypoglyph and falls under spell of Alcina, until Melissa reverses the spell. He rescues Angelica from the Orc.

Manos con tinta

While I use very lightly inscribed guidelines in pencil to draw in ink the helmeted Paladins, for the illustration of the ink wash scene of Algalia's ghost challenging Ferraus to steal Orlando's helmet, the technique is more free, like that of watercolor, using few pencil guidelines!

Ferraus challenged by the Ghost of Algal
Don Quijote encuentra el Yelmo de Mambri

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Scene from Canto 1 of Ariosto's ORLANDO IL FURIOSO : The ghost of Algalia appears to the Saracen knight Ferraus and challenges him to steal ORLANDO's helmet, to win the hand of Angelica.
( pen & sepia ink wash 16 x 30 cm, my freehand transcription of an original by 16th-century Italian artist Felice Giani)

The finding of the magic Helmet of Mambrino by Don Quixote in Cervantes' novel is a pivotal moment in the tale of his "delusions" and, at once, one of the most magical events in Part I of the novel. This is my original illustration, with Sancho Panza listening to his master's diatribe about the magic powers of the Helmet. Fact is, the object was no more than a barber's shaving basin, also used for "bleeding," which in Quijote's imagination becomes a magic talisman for the adventures that follow this chapter in Cervantes' novel.

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Pen & Ink drawings :

How I worked to render in my own voice an old portrait of author Ariosto

ARIOSTO Medallion portrait pencil guidli
ARIOSTO Medallion portrait by Enea Vico.

In order to arrive at my own freehand  INK portrait medallion of 16th-century poet Ludovico ARIOSTO (see below, LEFT), I first read or study carefully the original (top, RIGHT) and then, on a piece of smooth Fabriano drawing paper, sketch in light pencil the GUIDELINES of the overall image scaled to the size I desire, but proportionate to the original (say, 1:2 ratio, etc.) and I go on to sketch out the shape of the oval medallion its critical parts or angles, using axis lines to define the center vertical and the horizontal halfway divider of the page. I use the eraser carefully not to smudge the page, as I slowly produce my general reading of the image. I often get up and distancing myself from, my drawing board, look at both my work and the original, to compare accuracy and effective expression especially of the proportions but also of the "gestural," curved lines, etc., that give the original its character!

ARIOSTO Medallion portrait apres Enea Vi
ARIOSTO Medallion portrait project.jpg

The small, 7-inch high INK drawing of the medallion was done on a separate piece of Fabriano paper, using NO PENCIL GUIDELINES at all, but AFTER I had spent a few good hours executing the pencil guideline version on large paper, shown above.  Once you put down ink lines they cannot be lifted or changed in direction. Therefore I felt I owe the successful, fluid rendition of the medallion in sepia INK to my having read and studied well the medallion original.

The above drawing in sepia ink was carried out following the pencil guidelines of the first reading or study I did of the Enea Vico engraving of the 16th-century.

This is to say that it helped me very much in my quest to gain freedom in my lines to first do the drawing in pencil, with of course the eraser in hand. In addition, the small 7-inch ink medallion (above left) was very scary to do, as I was afraid I'd forget details or , worse, put down the "wrong" lines, which I then I would not be able to erase.

But these various steps strengthened my MEMORY, and I cannot stress enough how important memory and focusing are to a lovely artful drawing. So-called Modern Art has often laughed at Memory, pushing for surrealism and supposedly more authentic, knee-jerk types of markings. Ha!

Tavola di lavoro Ariosto.jpg
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