Isabella and the Pot of Basil (1876) by William Holman Hunt

Isabella and the Pot of Basil - William Holman Hunt - 1867

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Artwork Information

TitleIsabella and the Pot of Basil
ArtistWilliam Holman Hunt
MediumOil on Canvas
Dimensions38.7 x 60.6 cm
Art MovementRomanticism
Current LocationLaing Art Gallery, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK

About Isabella and the Pot of Basil

The artwork “Isabella and the Pot of Basil” is an oil on canvas painting created by William Holman Hunt in the year 1867. Representative of the Romanticism art movement, it measures 38.7 x 60.6 cm and is currently housed at the Laing Art Gallery, located in Newcastle upon Tyne, UK. Categorized as a portrait, this piece is a testament to Hunt’s meticulous craftsmanship and emotive storytelling.

The artwork captures a profoundly evocative scene, rich in narrative and decorative detail. It depicts Isabella, a character from John Keats’s poem “Isabella, or the Pot of Basil,” intimately engaging with a pot of basil in which, according to the story, lies the buried head of her murdered lover, Lorenzo. Isabella is portrayed in a moment of deep sorrow and longing, with her gaze fixed on the basil pot, highlighting the tragic romance at the core of the narrative. Her attire—a flowing white gown with an azure sash—is painted with intricate folds and textures that showcase Hunt’s attention to fabric and realism.

The surrounding environment is dense with ornamental elements and symbolic references, indicative of the Victorian fascination with both the idealistic aspects of historical settings and the realism in emotional expression. The heavily detailed backdrop, featuring architectural elements, patterned textiles, and a meticulously rendered chest in the foreground, converge to create a sumptuous and almost claustrophobic setting that envelops the central figure, further emphasizing her isolation and the weight of her grief.

Hunt’s level of detail extends to the ceramics, the tiles underfoot, and even the translucence of the glassware on the floor, all imbued with a lifelike presence—a hallmark of the Pre-Raphaelite movement’s dedication to establishing a connection between the art and the viewer through realism. The painting’s overall atmosphere is steeped in melancholy, which, combined with its lifelike portrayal and Romantic sensibilities, offers a poignant visualization of human emotion and dramatic storytelling.

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