Bertuccio's Bride

EDWARD ROBERT HUGHES RWS (1851-1914) Biography
PRE-RAPHAELITE (founded 1848) Biography

Bertuccio's Bride (England, 1895)

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Watercolour and bodycolour on white paper
signed and dated 1895, signed and inscribed with the title, quotation and the artists address on the backboard


101.60cm high
76.20cm wide
(40.00 inches high)
(30.00 inches wide)
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Richard Haworth, Blackburn


M. B. Huish, British Watercolour Art, (A & C Black, London 1904), page 140

Exhibition History

Royal Society of Painters in Watercolour; 1906.

Description / Expertise

‘Bertuccio ransoms with part of his inheritance the body of a gentleman from his murderers and with the residue frees from robbers a maiden who unknown to him is a princess. She is soon reclaimed but before leaving makes a contract of betrothal with Bertuccio. By the aid of a mysterious knight he meets, and with whom he changes clothes, he brings her home as his bride, and they meet the knight. Bertuccio is about to divide with him, according to their part, the wedding gifts, when everything is given up by the knight who proves to be the grateful spirit of the murdered gentleman.’

The Nights’ of Straparola, W. G. Waters’ translation.

In the mid 1890's, Hughes was commissioned to illustrate W.G. Waters' translation of the Nights of Straparola, which appeared in 1894. He produced seventeen paintings, which were reproduced in photogravure, and developed several into independent watercolours. The present watercolour originates in the frontispiece to the second volume of the Nights.

Straparola was a sixteenth century Italian poet and writer of Novels about whose life little is known. Le Piacevole Notti(1550-1553) or the Nights is his best known work and consists of seventy five stories told by a group of narrators in the manner of Boccaccio's Decameron. One of the Nights' claims to fame is that it originated the story of Puss in Boots. It also introduced some stories from the Arabian Nights into western literature for the first time.

Waters was the first and only translator of the Nights into English, and his book probably appeared in its lavish and limited edition because it was aimed at collectors of erotica. The stories in the Nights are frequently bawdy and each is concluded by an indecent riddle. Needless to say, Hughes's illustrations never transgress the boundaries of Victorian respectability, although those boundaries may now appear strange to us. For instance, he exhibited another Straparola Watercolour, Biancabella and Samaritana, her Snake Sister at the Royal Society of Painters in Watercolours and at the first Venice Biennial in 1895, seemingly without public criticism, although the subject is a snake entwining a naked woman. Burne-Jones gave his view of the relationship between stories and pictures in 1898: `Edward Hughes has done another of those Italian Story Books and has had more fun. But as for the stories I don't care for them.'(1)

In view of Hughes's romanticism it is significant that he chose to develop one of the most `Pre-Raphaelite' illustrations to The Nights into a large watercolour rather than the earthier peasant subjects of some of his other illustrations. The present subject has some reminiscences of Burne-Jones's image of medieval honour and chivalry, `The Merciful Knight' (1863 Birmingham City Museum and Art Gallery) (see also Hollyer's photograph after the image, this catalogue number 89, plate 68 b) in its treatment of a supernatural subject. Burne-Jones's painting had recently been shown at his retrospective exhibition at the New Gallery in the winter of 1892-1893. The present work also reveals Hughes's interest in the precision and detail of early Pre-Raphaelite painting, although the Brotherhood worked in oil rather than watercolour.

1. M. Lago, editor, Burne-Jones Talking, (John Murray, London 1981), page 172. The second book is unidentified.