Isabella and the Pot of Basil T-Shirt
Isabella and the Pot of Basil is a painting completed in 1868 by William Holman Hunt depicting a scene from John Keats's poem of the same name. It depicts the heroine Isabella caressing the basil pot in which she had buried her murdered lover Lorenzo's severed head. Hunt had drawn an illustration to the poem in 1848, shortly after the foundation of the the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, but he had not developed it into a completed painting. The drawing portrayed a very different scene, depicting Lorenzo as a clerk at work while Isabella's brothers study their accounts and order around underlings. Hunt returned to the poem in 1866, shortly after his marriage, when he began to paint several erotically charged subjects. His sensuous painting Il Dolce Far Niente had sold quickly, and he conceived the idea for a new work depicting Isabella. Having travelled with his pregnant wife Fanny to Italy, Hunt began work on the painting. However, after giving birth, Fanny died from fever in December 1866. Hunt turned the painting into a memorial to his wife, using her features for Isabella. He worked on it steadily in the months after her death, returning to England in 1867, and finally completing it in January 1868. The painting was purchased and exhibited by the dealer Ernest Gambart. The painting portrays Isabella, unable to sleep, dressed in a semi-transparent nightgown, having just left her bed, which is visible with the cover turned over in the background. She drapes herself over an altar she has created to Lorenzo from an elaborately inlaid prie-dieu over which a richly embroidered cloth has been placed. On the cloth is the majolica pot, decorated with skulls, in which Lorenzo's head is interred. Her abundant hair flows over the pot and around the flourishing plant, reflecting Keats's words that Isabella "hung over her sweet Basil evermore,/And moistened it with tears unto the core."