Saturday, April 4, 2020

Hiding Out from the Black Plague

A group of elegant young men and women tell stories and play music in an Italian garden.

A Tale from the Decameron (1916) by John William Waterhouse.
The scene, painted by J.W. Waterhouse, shows people sheltered in a secluded villa outside Florence hoping to escape the Black Plague of 1348-1353.

The plague killed between 40,000 and 60,000 citizens of Florence, about half of the population.

Decamerone by Raffaello Sorbi
What better way to pass the time in quarantine than to tell stories? 

Decameron X.7: How Liza Loved the King, by Edmund Blair Leighton, 1890
The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio (1313–1375) uses the framing idea for telling tales of wit, eroticism, practical jokes, and life lessons. E. Blair Leighton's painting shows:
"Lisa is the daughter of the apothecary Bernando Puccini. Lisa saw King Pietro of Aragon from a distance and fell in love with him, becoming deathly ill as a consequence. The tale was retold in the 19th century by George Eliot (1869) and Charles Algernon Swinburne, among others." (Source: Columbia University.)
Lauretta, one of the narrators of the Decameron,
painted by 
Jules Joseph Lefebvre
The Decameron is one of the masterpieces of early Italian literature, written in the vernacular. The stories were inspired by Dante's Inferno and in turn inspired Chaucer's Canterbury Tales.

John Everett Millais (1829–1896), Isabella (Lorenzo and Isabella)
(1848-49), oil on canvas, 103 x 142.8 cm,
One of the stories, Lorenzo and Isabella, involved infidelity, murder, and a severed head buried in a pot of basil. Read more online in Flowerpot's Grisly Secret.

There are a few free long-form readings in English. (Link to video) and you can get good English translations in print, such as The Decameron (Penguin Classics) 
More at Wikipedia on The Decameron.
Columbia University website: Historical Context for The Decameron by Boccaccio.


Susan Krzywicki said...

I remember reading this in college - it seemed so intriguing at the time, but never had the desire to read it again.

Maybe now is the time. Beautiful post.

scottT said...

I have been thinking about the Decameron since this happened. I have never read it, though I know the premise. Florence is dear to my heart. I'm heartbroken for how hard hit Italy is. I love your relevant posts lately.

Dave Brasgalla said...

Two years ago, I had the good fortune to attend one of Jean-Pierre Salkvist's live recitations of the Decameron, covering the first day. It was held by torchlight in the ruins of St. Clemens church in the medieval walled city of Visby, on the island of Gotland in the Baltic Sea. The entire event was centred on creating immersion around the idea of sheltering from the plague. Everyone shared loaves of bread, a singer gave a soft song, and then the storytelling began.

It was a moving experience that left a big impression on me - it’s strange to be living that scenario for real now. I wish everyone good health and good fortune.

By the way: if your tastes run to the ribald, there is a hilarious film from 2017 called “The Little Hours”, which is an adaptation of the first two stories of the third day of the Decameron. The dialogue is very modern and raw, and it’s probably not for everyone, but I really enjoyed it.

ferrelli said...

I absolutely love the 3rd painting! The guy who is trying to poke the dog with his foot is SO much like a couple of guys I know. The more societies advance, the more we are like people down through history, I guess. 😂

Carl said...

thank you for these images. It really puts our frightening times in perspective. The black Plague was horrendous. This coronavirus has changed the entire world for sure. the ramifications of it will remain to be seen thank you for all the effort you put into your blog. I certainly have enjoyed it. Stay safe you and your family sincerely, Jeanean Martin

Hildegard Khelfa said...

This book was part of our duty list in University. When I was student (a half lifetime ago ;-) ), I got hold on a beautiful print of the Decamerone in a store who sold used books cheaply. I loved rereading it.

History repeats.