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! 😉