Who was Torquato Tasso?
Torquato Tasso was a poet/playwright born in Sorrento, Italy in 1544. He studied
under the direction of the Jesuits at the Court of the Dukes of Urbino and later studied law and philosophy at the University
of Padua. He completed his studies at the University of Bologna. He later joined the court of the Este at Ferrara, where
he remained for many years.
His epic poem Jerusalem Delivered, which chronicles the exploits of Godfrey of Boulogne during the First Crusade, was his most famous piece of poetry.
His anxiety over offending the religious community led to psychological problems for the poet. Tasso would have all of his
friends and local clergymen read his poetry and give him critiques, but sometimes the critiques were more than he could
bear. Suffering from a persecution complex, he spent time first in a convent, and then in a hospital. He spent the end of
his life searching for the perfect working conditions for a poet, but ironically died at a monastery in Rome in 1595, just
one day before he was to have been crowned poet laureate.
In this engraving, Tasso
is shown with a laurel wreath crowning his head. Laurel leaves were originally used for divination, but soon became a symbol
for those who were divinely inspired – i.e. poets. Since laurel wreaths were used to crown famous poets in antiquity,
this brings Tasso back to a time when poets were particularly glorified for their craft. Since Tasso had such a hard time
with criticism and continually looked for a new group of critics that would give him the praise he desperately sought, this
portrayal of the poet seems a fitting tribute. It also may show Tasso having been crowned poet laureate, a title
that he missed by a day. There is a troubled look in his face, which seems appropriate for someone who led an extraordinarily
The engraving's frame is
carved wood with gesso.
The Painter: Stefano Tofanelli
Stefano Tofanelli was born
in Lucca, Italy in 1750. He primarily made drawings for engravers, but he also painted altarpieces, mythological scenes, and
portraiture. During his lifetime, he did several drawings for the engraver Raffaello Morghen, and of these drawings, many
of them were copies of the Old Masters. Tofanelli died in Lucca in 1810 at the age of sixty.
The Engraver: Raffaello Morghen
In 1758, Raffaello Sanzio
Morghen was born into a family of German engravers residing in Naples, Italy. His earliest teacher was his father, but he
was soon placed under the direction of the celebrated Giovanni Volpato. He assisted his master with engraving the paintings
of Raphael in Vatican City. Soon he was invited to Florence to engrave more paintings by the Old Masters, like Leonardo
da Vinci, among others. In 1803, The Insitute of France elected him an associate, and in 1812, Napolean himself invited Morghen
to Paris, where he paid him a great deal of attention. Not only was Morghen famous during his time; he was also quite prolific-
he composed over 200 engravings just while he was in Florence. Morghen died while
in Florence in 1833.