Isabella

John Everett Millais, 1849

WAG 1637

About this object

'Isabella' was one of the first paintings made in the new Pre-Raphaelite style. It was begun shortly after the founding of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in 1848, when Millais was only 19.

The subject is taken from a poem by John Keats (1795-1821), based on a story by the Italian writer Boccaccio (died 1375). It tells of the love between Isabella, the sister of wealthy Florentine merchants, and their poor apprentice Lorenzo. The jealous brothers later murder Lorenzo, but his body is found by Isabella, who cuts off his head and buries it in a pot of basil, which she waters with her tears.

The ending is hinted at in this painting by the pot of herbs in the background. There are other signs of the coming tragedy too. One of the brothers is shown aiming a kick at Isabella's dog, while the lovers share a blood orange, signifying the later spilling of Lorenzo's blood.

Object specifics

  • Artist(s)
    John Everett Millais (British: English, born:08 June 1829, died:13 August 1896)
  • Date
    1849
  • Materials
    Oil; Canvas
  • Measurements
    canvas/support: 103 cm x 142.8 cm; frame: 136.5 cm x 177.5 cm
  • Physical description
    A group of men and women sit around a table eating and drinking. One man is inspecting a glass of wine which he holds in his right hand; a falcon perches on the back of his chair. Another wipes his mouth with a napkin. To the right stands a servant with a cloth draped over his arm. In the foreground and to the left sits a man wearing a red hat, red tunic and white tights. He is leaning forward on his chair attempting to kick a greyhound which is being stroked by a woman seated opposite him. The woman is accepting an orange from a plate which is being offered to her by a man who sits to her right. She wears a long gown and has her hair plaited in a long braid which falls down her back. She sits on a stool which has the initials PRB carved on the leg. A pot of basil sits on the ledge of an arched window in the background, to the right.
  • Related people
    Boussod Valadon and Co (Previous owner); Wethered and Wass Colls (Previous owner); Ernest Gambart (Previous owner); Holland (Previous owner); Constantine Alexander Ionides (Previous owner); John Everett Millais (Artist/maker); Willis (Previous owner); Benjamin Godfrey Windus (Previous owner); Thomas Woolner (Previous owner)
  • Other number(s)
    WAG Inventory Number: 1637
  • Credit line
    Purchased by the Walker Art Gallery in 1884
  • Location
    Walker Art Gallery, Room 06
  • Collection
    From the Walker Art Gallery collections

Ownership

Previous owners

  • Boussod Valadon and Co

    Owned from: Unknown or unrecorded
    How acquired: Unknown or unrecorded
    Owned until: 1884
    Disposal method: Sold to Walker Art Gallery
  • Holland

    Owned from: Unknown or unrecorded
    How acquired: Unknown or unrecorded
    Owned until: Unknown or unrecorded
    Disposal method: Unknown or unrecorded
  • Constantine Alexander Ionides

    Owned from: 1881
    How acquired: Fine Art Society sale 1881
    Owned until: 1883-05-05
    Disposal method: Christie's sale 5 May 1883, bought in
  • Thomas Woolner

    Owned from: Unknown or unrecorded
    How acquired: Unknown or unrecorded
    Owned until: 1881
    Disposal method: Unknown or unrecorded
  • Willis

    Owned from: Unknown or unrecorded
    How acquired: Unknown or unrecorded
    Owned until: Unknown or unrecorded
    Disposal method: Unknown or unrecorded
  • Thomas Woolner

    Owned from: Unknown or unrecorded
    How acquired: Unknown or unrecorded
    Owned until: 1875-06-12
    Disposal method: Sold at Christie's sale 12th June 1875
  • Ernest Gambart

    Owned from: 1868-02-14
    How acquired: Purchased at Christie's sale 14 February 1868
    Owned until: 1875-06-12
    Disposal method: Unknown or unrecorded
  • Benjamin Godfrey Windus

    Owned from: 1849
    How acquired: Purchased
    Owned until: 1862-07-19
    Disposal method: Christie's sale 19th July 1862; bought in
  • Wethered and Wass Colls

    Owned from: 1849
    How acquired: Purchased
    Owned until: 1849
    Disposal method: Sold apparently direct to B G Windus

Inscriptions

Item inscriptions

  • Inscription text: PRB
    Inscription method: Paint
    Inscription note:
    Inscription location: Image; Side of Isabella's stool
  • Inscription text: J E Millais 1849 PRB
    Inscription method:
    Inscription note:
    Inscription location: Front; Lower right
Object view = Fine Art
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