Coffee, tea and biscuits are included on arrival and during half-time break
The Decameron’s Big Idea is to create an endless pretext for people to tell each other tales (true or false), not just to pass the time but also to outdo one other in narrative brilliance. Boccaccio’s biography reads like one of the tales: he might have been born in Florence, or in rural Tuscany at Certaldo, or in Paris to a French noblewoman, from whom he was snatched by his Florentine banker father, or was he? Chaucer lapped up Boccaccio. So did Shakespeare. And Keats. And painters and illustrators a-plenty, whose canvases and illustrations will be screened to bring Boccaccio’s stories to exciting non-verbal life head to head with his narratives throughout each session.
“I loved it – more from Graham please. He is a most unusual and stimulating lecturer with an exceptionally broad range of reference and refreshing fearlessness in making links”
Eye-witness or eyewash, the frame is beautifully convincing: ten young Florentines, seven women and three men, fearful of the plague raging in Florence, meet in Santa Maria Novella, decide to head for the hills, and stay in villas in and around Fiesole. They take it in turns to be the storyteller and tell a story a day each for 10 days. A Del Castagno, Vasari, Wappers, F Perellón, Sabatelli, Postiglione, Chagall, T Crivelli, F Podesti, Waterhouse, Monticelli, Dughetti, Bacci, A Di Bonaiuto.
Day One is declared a ‘Free’ day of tales on any subject: hence I. 4, about smuggling a ‘girl’ into ‘college’, and how to outwit your Superior. Day Two’s topic – happiness unexpected after misfortune – brings a tale (II.4) of piracy as a short-term career move for an Amalfi businessman. Chagall, Dalì, C Romiti, C Perellón, Steele Savage, Lessi, Malakov, Chalon, Rockwell Kent.
More joy against the odds: setbacks in threes and a jackpot for Andreuccio; Bernabò endures a scam, bankruptcy, loses his wife, is reunited, makes his fortune; Day Three’s theme – reach your goal or find what you’ve lost – has a young gardener get lucky in a convent garden; and sexual fraud co-opts the devil. D H Lawrence, Dalì, Savage, Kent, Perellón, N Riabova, C Romiti, Shakespeare.
A goose story with no geese opens Day Four’s theme of love ending unhappily. Be sure of the perils parents unleash who meddle in their offspring’s mate choice; be aware that impersonating the Angel Gabriel can lead to tears; and how self-defenestration may be the only way out. Boucher, Lancret, B Mei, van der Werff, Furini, Balassi, Hogarth, Il Bachiaca, Dalì, Perellón, Chagall.
More appalling family interference turns love into tragedy in John Keats’s 1818 poem ‘Isabella, or the Pot of Basil’, which stays close to Boccaccio’s tale, outstanding among the 100, of a 14th century ‘honour killing’ and how a woman’s grief can generate ingenious mourning. Holman Hunt, Waterhouse, Manton, Severn, Earles, Millais, Strudwick, Frampton, Alexander, Nowell, Romiti, Keats.
Day Five celebrates lovers navigating disasters and winning through to happiness. Grown-up Babes in the Wood Pietro and Agnolella flee bandits, get separately lost in a forest, rescued by locals and reunited in a castle. V.1 is a tour-de-force of love, imprisonment, abduction and miracle. Botticelli, di Giovanni, Leighton, Rubens, Millais, Palma Il Vecchio, Matham, Reynolds, B West, Perellón
Happiness seems inconceivable at first in Tale Eight, the lure of which so caught Botticelli’s imagination that he painted it in four dramatically beautiful episodes: a haunting vision of hunt, kill and instant revival in a forest inspires young Nastagio to a new strategy of wooing his once-cruel beloved. Botticelli, Davide Ghirlandaio, G F Watts, 15th century MS, H Fuseli, Rockwell Kent, Prinsep.
The gift of the gab and a quick wit pay handsome dividends in these tales of give-as-good-as-you-get, two can play at that game, or just be wily and win. Damned cheek has its come-uppance. Hide in a barrel and make a virtue of it. Blame your husband’s eyesight for what he thought he saw. Dalì, Chagall, Fra Angelico, di Niccolo, A & E Balbusso, Trifon, Daniloff, Savage, Cranach the Elder.
Day Eight is about men and women alike playing tricks on one another. Prospecting for gold is one thing, but there are even bigger fools. How to steal your own pig and be proved guilty. Day Nine proves an abbess a hypocrite about ‘having men in’, and the ‘pig-stealer is ‘cured’ of pregnancy. Briggs, A Giannini, Steele Savage, Chagall, W Klemke, Castagnola, Buffalmacco, Kent, Disertori.
Day Ten honours those who are generous out of love. Wanting a garden out of season needs magic, but how do you pay the magician? And in the most famous tale of them all, an absolute bastard subjects his wife to unimaginable trials and she, staggeringly, endures. Stothard, Stillman, Waterhouse; Master of the Griselda Legend, Pesellino, A di Giovanni Toscani, Il Pontormo, Cope, Byam Shaw.