Lady Lever Gallery Artwork of the Month – January, 2007
‘The Decameron ‘, by John William Waterhouse (1849-1917)
These scenes of medieval storytelling, painted in 1916 and 1917, distil many of the qualities of Waterhouse’s work. Their fanciful subject, colour and attention to detail echo the work of the Pre-Raphaelites. Their composition, elegance and figures remind us of works by the Victorian classicists. But, perhaps more significantly, these works demonstrate the traditionalist preferences of their collector, William Hesketh Lever.
Like many of the Pre-Raphaelite artists whom he admired, Waterhouse was interested in medieval literature; indeed perhaps one of his most famous works is his interpretation of the medieval subject The Lady of Shalott, now in Tate Britain. In The Decameron and The Enchanted Garden, Waterhouse gathers inspiration from the great Italian medieval writer Giovanni Boccaccio (1313-1375). Boccaccio’s Decameron was written in about 1350 during the outbreak of the Plague in Florence. It relates the story of 10 young people (3 men and 7 women) who fled into the countryside to escape the ravages of the disease. Each member of the group took it in turns to be ‘king’ or ‘queen’ for the day choosing activities including storytelling by each member of the group. Over a ten-day period 100 different stories are told covering a myriad of themes and motifs including wit, love, fortune, deception, sex, religion, cruelty and death.
Free Gallery Talks on Friday 12 and Tuesday 23 January by Sandra Penketh, Head of Lady Lever Art Gallery.