In The Decameron, Gionvanni Boccaccio told the tale of Isabella, a lady of Messina who fell in love with Lorenzo, a young man who worked with her three brothers. They disapproved of Lorenzo and so murdered him. But Isabella, learning of the location of his body, brought back his severed head and placed it in a pot of soil. Watered by her tears, it grew a luxurious basil. Her brothers, upon discovering the origin of the basil, stole the pot from her. They took away not only Isabella's lover, but also her memory of him. It is a tragic romance that Boccaccio invented, and it was later brought to the attention of 19th Century Britain by poet John Keats. Here is a passage from his 500-line poem:
And so she ever fed it with thin tears,
Whence thick, and green, and beautiful it grew,
So that it smelt more balmy than its peers
Of Basil-tufts in Florence; for it drew
Nurture besides, and life, from human fears,
From the fast mouldering head there shut from view:
So that the jewel, safely casketed,
Came forth, and in perfumed leafits spread.
His celebrated poem became a revered motif for the Pre-Raphaelite painters. These are some of their representations of this tale.
By William Holman Hunt. This is my favorite.
By John White Alexander.
A scene from before the murder of Lorenzo done by John Everett Millais.
By Henrietta Rae.
By John Melhuish Studwick.
Also by John Melhuish Studwick.