When the Market Cafe opened on March 13th, a print that has been on the wall at Sweet Basil for almost 20 years suddenly became more visible. The Market Cafe was formerly the linen and barware room and with all the shelves covering the walls Isabella was relegated to a corner. It won’t surprise you to find out that the name of the painting is ”Isabella and the Pot of Basil.” (We do love basil!)
William Holman Hunt painted “The Pot of Basil” in 1868. Hunt was part of a group known as the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood who “wanted a return to the abundant detail, intense colors and complex compositions of 15th century Italian art.”
The gruesome story is about a young lady named Isabella whose family wants her to marry a wealthy man – but she is in love with a servant, Lorenzo. Isabella’s brothers murder Lorenzo and tell their sister that he has gone on a long journey. But Lorenzo appears to Isabella in a dream and tells her what happened. The grieving Isabella finds Lorenzo’s body and places his head – yes – in a pot of basil and tends it lovingly.
CODA: There are two versions of “Isabella and the Pot of Basil.” The original is at the Laing Gallery in Newcastle upon Tyne, UK. Hunt made a smaller copy with minor changes which had been at the Delaware Art Museum in Wilmington until last year when it sold for $4.25 million. The print in the Market Cafe if of the smaller version.