William Holman Hunt - Isabella and the Pot of Basil
Hunt's painting shows Keats' Isabella leaning toward her pot of basil, with her long dark hair draped over the pot


Hunt's painting illustrates a scene from John Keats' poem 'Isabella, or the Pot of Basil'. Isabella caresses the pot, in which the severed head of her lover is planted. The skulls decorating the pot allude to what is inside. 

Hunt created an earlier illustration to the poem soon after the birth of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, which portrayed a different scene, where Lorenzo is spied upon by Isabella's brothers, who eventually murder him. This later moment shifts the focus to the heartbroken Isabella: her flowing dark hair, her semi-transparent bedclothes, and her bed visible in the background capture a sexualised, intimate scene. The sensuality of her caress nods to Keats description of how Isabella "hung over her sweet Basil evermore,/And moistened it with tears unto the core."

The rich and intense use of colour conveys the complex textures of the interior: the embroidered altar cloth, the intarsio furniture, and the inlaid marble floor.  

Associated Place(s)


  • William Holman Hunt

Image Date: