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Nastagio in Bosnia

In 1483 a strange commission was received by Botticelli's workshop.   It required the decoration of a pair of wedding chests with images from a tale to be found in Boccaccio's 'Decameron' concerning Nastagio degli Onesti.

The story recounted how the young Nastagio, in despair at being rejected by the beautiful daughter of a wealthy merchant, wandered brooding on his ill fortune through a pine forest at Chiassi, near Ravenna.   Suddenly he was startled by a fearsome scream and from the bracken burst forth a naked woman pursued by a knight and a ferocious dog.   Nastagio made as if to intervene but the knight cautioned him against becoming involved, telling him that he too had been spurned in love and now was condemned, with the woman of his desires, to an eternal chase.   At this same place and time each Friday, he explained, he would catch her and kill her and cut out her heart and feed her entrails to the dog.   And it happened again.

Nastagio thought the matter over for some time. He then summoned his friends telling them that he would finish his self imposed exile, on condition that they persuade the merchant and his daughter to attend a banquet in the forest the following Friday.

The family reluctantly accepted the invitation and on the appointed day and hour were seated with their entourage around a table in the wood, when right on cue the horrific apparition occurred before their eyes.   The young woman was so terrified by what she saw that she immediately consented to marry Nastagio.   The story concludes with the wedding.

Nastagio's opportunism and complicity are both ancient and recurrent, but so too are individual acts of resistance and bravery.   On Thursday 23 April, 1993, whilst the House of Commons debated Bosnia, a workingman called Graham Bamford sacrificed himself in flames on the green outside.   He left behind a guide to Sarajevo on which he had written that 'Britain should do more than stand by as a guard of honour to the Balkan's tragedy'.

 

'Nastagio in Bosnia' was awarded a jury prize by John Moores Exhibition 18, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, 1993.