Isabella and the Pot of Basil. Joseph Severn (1793-1879). 1877. Oil on canvas, 50 x 71 cm. Collection: Guildhall Art Gallery (no. KH0148). Gift, 1922. Reproduced courtesy of the City of London Corporation. Click on image to enlarge it.

Severn, who is best remembered as the man in whose arms John Keats died, painted this subject from Keats’s famous poem of the same name in his 84th year. John Everett Millais had depicted another part of the narrative Lorenzo and Isabella (1849), one of the earliest Pre-Raphaelite paintings ever exibited. There the young man offers a plate to his beloved Isabella as one of her noble brothers reveals his cruel nature by kicking a dog she is petting. In the story derived from Boccaccio, after the brothers kill Lorenzo, Isabella digs up his corpse, takes his head, and buries it in a pot of basil, which becomes her most precious possession. As was common with the original members of the Brotherhood, William Holman Hunt painted a later episode in the story. (Hunt’s The Shadow of Death similarly follows and completes Millais’s Christ in the House of His Parents). Hunt's version is the most famous painting of this Keatsian subject, but a number of other artists and sculptors attempted it, including Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale, Henry Charles Fehr, Edward Reginald Frampton, John Melhuish Strudwick, and John William Waterhouse.

Other depictions of Isabella and the pot of basil and related subjects

Last modified 5 January 2020