Detail, The birth of Venus, c 1484, Tempera on wood.  Ufizzi Gallery Florence


Detail, Primavera, c 1482, Grease tempera on wood.  Ufizzi Gallery Florence

The Story of Nastagio degli Onesti, 1483, Museo del Prado, Madrid and Private Collection
(scroll down to see all 4 works)

Scans courtesy Art Renewal Center

These panels were painted for the occasion of the wedding of the godson of Lorenzo the Magnificent, Gianozzo Pucci to Lucrezia Bini. The panels tell a story from Bocaccio's Decameron, 5th tale of the 9th day.

In the first panel we meet Onesti, strolling through the forest, upset because his fiancÚ has refused to marry him. His despair is driving him crazy and he wants to be alone, but his solitude is disturbed by the sound of galloping hooves. Suddenly a naked woman appears before him, she is chased by a pack of dogs. The sounds of the hooves have come from a knight in armour who is riding hard at the woman and brandishing his sword. Despite such intensity of action in the foreground of the painting, the background and surrounding landscape are perfectly peaceful.

In the second panel the woman is caught by the dogs and wouded by the sword, she has fallen to the ground. The knight has dismounted and is cutting open her back to take her heart and feed it to his dogs. Onesti is horrified (look at his face and the way he turns aside) Then a surprising thing happens, even before the dogs have finished eating the heart, the woman gets to her feet again and runs away, the dogs and horses again in pursuit. Onesti has witnessed a curse! The woman has to run and the man will kill her until the end of time, over and over again. Why? Because the man was in love with her and she rejected him, so now he will perpetually steal her heart and feed it to his animals.

The third panel shows the brilliant idea this has given Onesti! He is a jilted lover as well! What better way to get his girl back than to invite her family to a banquet in the forest where he has seen this gruesome curse? The family duely arrive for the banquet and are horrified by the scene that plays out before them. Once again the foreground is chaos, but the background is complete serenity.

The fourth panel shows the result of Onesti's plan ... not wanting to suffer the same fate as the phantom girl, Onesti's fiancÚ changes her mind and they marry. We are guests at the wedding, marrying the theme of the work nicely with the occasion for which it was painted.