The story of Roger and Angelica comes from an epic poem called Orlando Furioso, by Ludovico Ariosto, published in 1532. It´s a very long poem that continues another poem from Matteo Maria Boiardo. Concretely, the tale belongs to the 10th chant, verse 92. It talks about a beautiful woman captured and watched over by a dragon. Roger, the hero, wish to deliver Angelica from this situation by which he fights and kills the monster.
This is not a new story, we have some examples very similar, from the ancient Greece, pagan traditions and Christianity. The oldest is the story of Andromeda and Perseus, who has to kill the gorgon Medusa to save the princess (you can read more about this in my previous post “Contemporary Medusa”). In pagan traditions from Capadoce there exists the legend of the God Sabacio who has to kill a big serpent riding a white horse. The Christian hagiography in the Golden Legend talks about Saint George and the dragon, another tale with the same protagonists: the knight, the princess and the dragon.
This theme was popularised by the painting of Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres in 1812 called Roger delivering Angelica, made in classical academic style. But the painting of this post is later and belongs to the Symbolist style, just because Arnold Böcklin is one of the principal painters of this fin de siècle movement. There is no doubt that Ingres painting is a masterpiece, but the Böcklin one, not so wellknown, is important too.
This painting represents the moment just before Roger starts to fight with the dragon, we see him coming from the horizon. In front, there are Angelica tied to a tree and a very big turquoise dragon which tail rounds the body of Angelica.
In Symbolism the woman use to play a role of femme fatal in many cases, and a role of subordination to the male in many others. This reflects the misoginy that leads this movement. In this painting, clearly the woman plays the role of captive, that cannot be free without the help of a man. To emphasize this subordination, Angelica appears half nude, and Roger carries a long lance like a phalic element, both give the scene a sexual content, there is a sexual sublimation by symbolism. Even more, the tail of the dragon around the half naked body of Angelica could represent another sexual vinculation. In this case the dragon could play the role of the serpent in Paradise: there are three characters: female, male and devil, like Eve, Adam and the serpent in the Genesis.
Again, a painting plenty of meaning and symbolism.