Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index

  • Title: The Story of Nastagio degli Onesti (Part III)
  • Creator: Botticelli, Sandro, painter
  • Description:

    This painting was one of four panels depicting the Story of Nastagio degli Onesti that was created for the spalliere (wedding chest) of the nuptial chamber of Giannozzo Pucci and Lucrezia Bini. It was likely commissioned by Giannozzo’s father, Antonio Pucci, to commemorate their wedding in 1483, as spalliera were generally commissioned by a young man’s father as an aesthetic, familial, and political statement on the occasion of the son’s marriage. The decoration of panels on these types of chests usually featured lively figurative landscapes and moralizing cycles that were designed to reinforce proper attitudes towards marital and civic duty, ancient legacy, and patrimony, as well as to encourage men to accept their roles as providers and protectors of the home, and women as caretakers and managers of domestic affairs.

    The Story of Nastagio degli Onesti comes from Boccaccio’s Decameron (Fifth Day, eighth story) which tells of Nastagio, who has fallen in love with “a daughter of Paolo Traversari, a girl of far more noble lineage than his own… [O]n account of her singular beauty or perhaps because of her exalted rank, she became so haughty and contemptuous of him that she positively loathed him and everything he stood for.” The difference in status between Nastagio and the daughter of Paolo Traversari is relevant to Giannozzo and Lucrezia because the Puccis occupied a lower social rank than the Bini family. Therefore, Giannozzo could be viewed by the Binis as an inferior and unworthy match for their daughter. However, the plot line of the story warns against such prideful thinking by people of the elite, especially young women in that group.

    Following her rejection, Nastagio withdrew to the woods outside Ravenna where he overindulged sexually, spent his fortune extravagantly, and contemplated suicide. One morning however, he witnessed an apparition in which a beautiful, naked woman was being pursued by a vicious knight and his dogs. The knight explained to Nastagio that when they were alive, the woman was high-born and spurned his love. Consequently, he killed himself. When she died soon after, they were condemned to repeat for eternity the futile chase and punishment of the pitiless woman. Eventually, the knight always catches her, disembowels her, and feeds her heart and entrails to his dogs. This can be understood as symbolic rape. Christelle Baskins argues that the pitiless woman, like the unnamed Traversari daughter, prefers her solitary or virginal state; the knight’s task, like Nastagio’s is to demonstrate that her virginity is perverse, in the sense that it undermines the patriarchal system in which men dominated women sexually. According to Susanne Wollford, a male discourse about women is being presented in this story, one that has a resolutely misogynistic core in that it comfortably assumes that refusing to give in to ardent wooing and the sexual desires of men constitutes a deed that merits violent punishment. The first two panels on this spalliere depict these scenes.

    Nastagio intends to make his beloved receptive to the carnal embrace by teaching her a lesson, the instruction of which is accomplished through spectacle, through a vision of cruelty enacted on a woman’s body. He invites her and her kin to a banquet in the wooded area where the phantasmagorical woman is brought down by the hunting dogs. This panel shows the guests’ reactions to these gruesome events. The women seated at the table directly across from the apparition are clearly horrified. With open mouths and transfixed gazes, their faces display deep distress and disbelief. Their limbs are in odd positions and their gowns are billowing against their bodies, as if this image was caught at the moment that they leapt from the table in fear. The panic that they are experiencing is reinforced by the disorderly state of the table; food is in the process of falling to the ground, the table cloth is stained, and chairs are overturned. Nastagio’s beloved, the woman in the center of the table who is dressed in white, raises her hands in a placating gesture, as if to indicate that she will return Nastagio’s love, so long as such violence is not inflicted upon her. She immediately agrees to marry Nastagio, and inspired by her example, all of the other cruel women of Ravenna soften their hearts and agree to the desires of men. The wedding ceremony of Nastagio and his lover is depicted in the fourth and last panel.

    As the spectral woman and the Traversari daughter demonstrate, women in the Decameron have to be moved by violence to accept conjugal relations and restore social order. Susanne Wofford argues that what is at issue in this story is never women’s pleasure but the pleasure of men, and the focus is on how to use a scene to bend a woman to male desires or to accept an offer of marriage. This act of requiring is openly treated in the novella as an act of force accomplished through fear, and hence congruent with the torment afflicted on the lady suffering infernal punishment.

  • Source: Wikimedia Commons
  • Rights: Public domain
  • Subject (See Also): Boccaccio, Giovanni, Author- Decameron Chastity Man Woman Relationships Marriage Nastagio degli Onesti (Literary Figure) Social Class Spalliere, Painted Panels Violence
  • Geographic Area: Italy
  • Century: 15
  • Date: 1483
  • Related Work: The Story of Nastagio degli Onesti: Part I, Part II, and Part IV.
  • Current Location: Madrid, Spain, Museo Nacional del Prado, P02840; Part IV- Private collection
  • Original Location: Florence
  • Artistic Type (Category): Digital Images; Paintings
  • Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Tempera; wood panel
  • Donor: Lay man; likely Antonio Pucci, a Florentine merchant associated with Lorenzo Medici, who commissioned the panels for his son's wedding. An inventory indicated that the panels served as wall decorations in the couple's
  • Height/Width/Length(cm): 84/142/
  • Inscription:
  • Related Resources: Barriault, Anne. "Introduction: Spalliera Paintings in Situ." In Spalliera Paintings of Renaissance Tuscany: Fables of Poets for Patrician Homes. Pennsylvania State University Press, 1994. Pages 1-8;
    Baskins, Christelle. "Gender Trouble in Italian Renaissance Art History: Two Case Studies." Studies in Iconography 16 (1994): 1-36.;
    Tinagli, Paola. "Womanly Virtues in Quattrocento Florentine Marriage Furnishings." In Women in Italian Renaissance Culture and Society. Edited by Letizia Panizza. European Humanities Research Centre, University of Oxford, 2000. Pages 265 - 284;
    Wofford, Susanne. "The Social Aesthetics of Rape: Closural Violence in Boccaccio and Botticelli." In Creative Imitation: New Essays on Renaissance Literature, edited by David Quint. Medieval and Renaissance Texts & Studies, 1992. Pages 189-238.