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The Story of Nastagio degli Onesti

It would not be surprising if Botticelli’s series of four paintings called The Story of Nastagio degli Onesti reminds you more of a surrealistic nightmare than series of Renaissance paintings. But once we find out what the paintings represent and the context in which they were painted, they begin to make more sense, allowing our reaction to change from that of horror to admiration for Botticelli’s artistic genius.

Completed in 1483, the paintings were commissioned by Lorenzo the Magnificent to mark the occasion of the wedding of his godson. Although much of the art of Renaissance Italy revolved around Christian and classical themes, at times artists did paint scenes from contemporary literature for their wealthy patrons. Such was the case with The Story of Nastagio degli Onesti. The paintings depict four scenes from a contemporary novella called The Decameron, written by Italian author Giovanni Boccaccio.

The story begins as Nastagio is walking through the forest in despair because the woman whom he wishes to marry has refused him. During his walk, he witnesses a knight leading his hounds in the chase of a naked woman! The first panel, entitled The Encounter with the Damned in the Pine Forest, shows Nastagio attempting to defend the woman with a tree branch as one of the hounds leaps at her. The knight, on horseback, brandishes his sword as he arrives at the scene.

Powerless to help the woman, Nastagio watches in horror as the knight captures the woman, tears out her heart and her entrails and feeds them to his dogs! The knight then begins the same chase of the same woman again. Nastagio learns that the woman had refused to marry the knight and that this series of events will take place eternally as a punishment for both of them -- the knight’s suicide and the woman’s rejection. The second panel entitled The Infernal Hunt shows Nastagio recoiling with revulsion as he watches the knight assail the woman with his sword. In the background, we see the chase taking place again.

Clever as he is, Nastagio uses what he has seen to his advantage. He invites a group of guests, including the lady who has rejected him and her family, to the forest to view the perpetual chase and its horrific results. Once she understands the possible consequences of her own actions, the lady agrees to marry Nastagio! In the third panel, entitled The Banquet in the Pine Forest, we see the guests seated at the banquet tables as Nastagio presents the dreadful scene. The beloved lady is at the head table, dressed in white. In the background, a servant approaches Nastagio with a message from the lady saying that she will marry him.

The fourth panel, entitled The Wedding Banquet, shows the splendid wedding celebration set under a magnificent archway. The guests are seated at tables; Nastagio and his lady sit at the head table. The coats of arms in the painting are of the Pucci and Binni families, an allusion to their own wedding on which occasion the paintings were commissioned.

The first three panels have resided in the Museo del Prado in Madrid, Spain since 1941. The fourth panel was believed to be part of a private collection in the U.S. until recently. As it turned out, the fourth panel was still in the hands of a descendent of the Pucci family! As a result of brilliant negotiations by Italian curators, all four panels were brought together and exhibited at the Palazzo Strozzi in 2004 along with other lesser known works of Botticelli.

To see the four panels that tell The Story of Nastagio, click here.

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Diana Blake is a professional artist and art history enthusiast. Her fascination with art history began when she encountered European art firsthand during several trips abroad as a young adult. As she began to compose a portfolio for her own art career, she called upon what she had seen in Europe and extended her knowledge to other styles of art through profuse reading and exhaustive research. As a result, Diana has written more than one hundred articles in which she delves into a variety of art history topics and she has compiled a list of links that she believes to be invaluable for art history enthusiasts. In addition, she also reviews books and movies on the topic of art history and has assembled an extensive list of online stores that sell books, movies and gift items related to art history.
   You can see Diana's own artwork by visiting her site at