The Enchanted Garden

A funny thing happened on the way to my blog post. I came upon a work of art that was unrelated to my planned piece, and it completely captured my imagination. “Ooooh! What’s this? So pretty!”, I thought. I knew there had to be a story behind this scene, and indeed there was. So I’m going to bump my original post so I can share this one with you. It’s so romantic!!!

The painting is by the Pre-Raphaelite artist and model Marie Spartali Stillman, and is inspired by one of the tales from Boccaccio’s medieval literary masterpiece The Decameron. The young man Ansaldo falls madly in love with Dianora, a married woman. He pursues and pursues, only to be rebuffed. Dianora doesn’t take him seriously. However, she promises Ansaldo that she will leave her husband for him and become his lover if he successfully performs one task. She deliberately chooses an impossible task that she knows Ansaldo cannot accomplish so he will go away and leave her alone. She thought she was being clever, you see. And apparently even in the Middle Ages, people were into head games. So Dianora asks Ansaldo to create a lush blooming garden of fruits and flowers, even though it is January, the dead of winter. She assumes she’s off the hook.

Well there’s no stopping a man in love. Ansaldo enlists the services of a sorcerer, and offers to pay him a large sum of money to produce the garden. After it is created, Ansaldo has baskets of beautiful spring flowers and ripe fruits sent to Dianora’s house. She is shocked! How the hell did he do it? It wasn’t possible! So with her friends and children from the neighborhood, Dianora ventures over to see the garden.

Here’s the scene depicted in Stillman’s painting, The Enchanted Garden of Messer Ansaldo, from 1889. You can see the wintry reality through the arches in the background:

Isn’t that like the most romantic thing ever??? I love it! I totally love it. No man has ever given me a garden! A guy gave me a beer stein once, but never a garden 😆

Dianora’s reaction, however, was not to run swooning and giddy into the arms of her persistent, lovelorn admirer. Rather, she was dismayed and quite horrified at these turn of events. Because, well, she was just . . sort of . . . kind of . . . messing with the guy. And yet, Ansaldo produces the garden, totally calling her bluff. Sweet!

John William Waterhouse also took on this story from The Decameron. This is his 1916 version, The Enchanted Garden. In this one, Dianora, on the left in pink, looks really pissed!

I’d like to take this opportunity to make an announcement: to all the the men out there, if you can create an enchanted garden just for me, with roses, wisteria and hyacinths, peach trees, strawberries and green grapes, in the middle of winter, you can have my undying love and devotion. That’s a promise! 😉

9 thoughts on “The Enchanted Garden

  1. Ron says:

    So what happened? Did she keep her promise to Ansaldo and run off with him, or did she stay with hubby? And why would he want to run off with someone so passive aggressive. if that’s the right term. I guess true love overlooks such minor details.

    Anyway, I’ll take you up on that offer. Where do want this peach tree lady?

    • artmodel says:


      The end of the story is lame, in my opinion. Dianora confesses to her husband what happened, he advises her to honor her promise to Ansaldo (!), so she tells Ansaldo she got her husband’s permission to be with him, but Ansaldo feels guilty and foolish about the whole thing and calls it off in an act of deference to the couple :snore:

      I think there should have been a “garden-creating face-off” between the two men. One makes lemon trees, the other outdoes him with orange trees. One makes pink roses, the other makes yellow roses, and so on and so forth. Like a horticulture steel cage match.

      As for my peach tree, Ron, I’d like it next to the plums. Thanks! 🙂


  2. Ah come on Claudia, your worth far more than that, the garden’s a start -but hold out for the Upper East Side Brownstone, the Lamborghini and the 5th Avenue parking space! 🙂

    Hum I probably should have capitalized the NYC parking space as it’s worth as much, or more, than the other two….

    • artmodel says:


      Your points are well taken! Although I can honestly say that I would still take the enchanted garden over all those things you mentioned, as valuable as they may be.

      The parking space is probably the most coveted in this town!


  3. Eric Clayton says:

    Hi Claudia,
    Does doing it a glasshouse count?

    • artmodel says:


      I’m sorry, but I don’t quite understand your question! Doing what in a glasshouse?


      • Eric Clayton says:

        Growing the enchanted garden in a glasshouse (also known as a hothouse or greenhouse). After all, was it Arthur C Clarke who said that advanced technology would look like magic to a primitive people.

        • artmodel says:


          Thank you for clarifying and forgiving me my lapse in comprehension 😳

          I would have to say that a hothouse-grown garden would NOT count in this situation. The miracle of the garden existing right outdoors side by side with the winter weather is the magical quality in this story. So in my opinion, i reject the hothouse version, with all due respect to Arthur C. Clarke.

          Thanks for commenting!


  4. Claudia,

    I have another picture showing Ansaldo dreaming of this Mystic Marriage. Unfortunately I can’t paste it in here; so if you send me your email address I’ll let you see it that way.

    I don’t know who its by; I had thought it to be an early Stillman but its not.


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