Patient Griselda

(c) The National Gallery, London; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Spalliera Panels, Story of Patient Griselda Part 1 – Marriage, by Sienese Painters c. 1490

Boccaccio (along with Petrarch, Chaucer, Perrault, etc) told the tale of Patient Griselda. It is one of the most infuriating, disturbing, mind-twisting stories I know. Griselda is a poor peasant maiden and one day the nobleman Gualtieri (so-called in Boccaccio) is pressured to take a wife so he chooses her. He proceeds to put her through trial after trial, testing her patience, loyalty and fortitude to withstand his tyrannical abuses.


Spalliera Panels – Exile

This includes taking away their children and telling her they have been killed. Meanwhile, he secrets the children away to be educated outside the court. Then he banishes Griselda, who all the while is suffering hugely but puts up with this horrific husband. Put back to her base roots and humiliated, she is then called to play bridesmaid to her husband’s new bride! She dresses helps the young girl ready for the wedding and returns to court, only to find out that the girl is one of her children and that the trials are finally over, she can live in peace with her husband.

All’s well that ends well…?

(c) The National Gallery, London; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Spalliera Panels – Reunion

The tale has been read from the beginning as allegorical, perhaps for the seemingly arbitrary torments that God may inflict upon us. Griselda represents the outstanding example of a human soul coping with those trials. If read on a literal level, the husband is the vilest of creatures and Griselda an idiot for suffering in silence. But Griselda is one of those tales where the interplay between the surface level and the allegorical level is tenuous, tense and oh-so-difficult to navigate.

The Spalliera Sienese panels depicting the tale of Griselda are an interesting interpretation of the folktale that truly captures the public humiliation of the girl, the sense of courtly atmosphere that is so alien to her peasant birth and the pomp and ceremony of the husband’s trials…Griselda is mentally tortured and yet, should we truly feel sorry for her? Is our natural reaction of horror and pity too natural, too easy? As Griselda is being tragically exiled on the other side of the panel, this fellow’s jaunty buttocks say ‘read and look with a pinch of salt’:


The Lavish World of Agostino Chigi, Richest Banker in Rome

farnesina villa

The Villa Farnesina

Welcome to the luxurious villa of Agostino Chigi, richest man in Rome. Chigi lived from 1466 to 1520, born with a good inheritance and name but destined to monopolise huge amounts of mercantile ventures throughout Europe, ending up with perhaps 20,000 people in his employ. His success was guaranteed by a close relationship with the warrior pope, Julius II, whom Chigi even accompanied into battle (a banker and a pope mounting the attack..!). But Chigi, although himself not a man of great education, was a serious show-off when it came to art and culture.

Titian's Pietro Aretino (one of several portraits of Aretino)

Titian’s Pietro Aretino (one of several portraits of Aretino)

He patronised the man you see above, whose looks shouldn’t fool you into thinking he was the grandfatherly type. An illegitimate bisexual wit, Pietro Aretino was a notorious writer (perhaps he’s a kind of Italian equivalent of the English John Wilmot  – author of Signior Dildo, etc). Pietro Aretino satirised half the men in Italy and half the intellectual pursuits too, dabbling in pornographic writing and working in the coterie of our flush friend Agostino Chigi.

Raphael, Galatea, c. 1511 (Photo courtesy of Web Gallery of Art)

Raphael’s Galatea

Of course, Chigi wanted visual spectacle too. Hence he patronised that pinnacle of High Renaissance elegance, Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino (or to the English, Rapahel). In the astonishing villa that Agostino Chigi had built, several artists adorned Chigi’s surroundings with frescoes. Raphael’s are the most famous and the ‘Galatea’ above was commissioned for Chigi’s illustrious Venetian mistress. Charged with movement, grace and eroticism, you can see why.

Perspective view of the Sala delle Prospettive, Villa Farnesina

Perspective view of the Sala delle Prospettive, Villa Farnesina

But perhaps my favourite instance of Agostino Chigi’s conspicuous consumption (although admittedly nowhere near the finest achievement of his spending) is his feasting. He would prove just how little lavish spending meant to him by throwing outrageous feasts and then having the expensive silverwear thrown away afterwards. Of course, servants would quickly go catch and collect it again in secret. Even a rich man doesn’t want to throw away something of value.