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Once upon a time, so the story goes, there was an Italian nobleman called Gualtieri, the Marquis of Saluzzo. He spent his days hunting and playing sports with no interest in settling down, despite pleas from his friends and advisors that he should marry and produce an heir.

Eventually, to please them, he agreed but privately resolved to marry Griselda, a local peasant and the most beautiful girl he had ever seen. Her poor background he thought would spite those who were pressuring him to marry, while her good looks would make married life more bearable. However, once married, he set several trials through which Griselda had to prove her fidelity. After many twists, turns, and testing times for Griselda, during which she again and again showed her faithfulness, the story ends happily.

The Story of Griselda, Part I: Marriage

Image: Master of the Story of Griselda, 'The Story of Griselda, Part I: Marriage', about 1494

Our three paintings, by a still unknown artist, tell the tale of Griselda and Gualtieriā€™s courtship, wedding, and married life. This first painting takes us up to the wedding day and begins by showing Gualtieri hunting with his retinue, silhouetted on the crest of the hill in the left background. In the foreground, the Marquis encounters Griselda returning from a well, carrying a water jug on her head and is stunned by her beauty. Over on the right, the Marquis arrives at her house and announces his intention to marry her. Griselda is shown naked, having shed her shabby clothes, and is just about to be dressed in new fine garments. At the centre, there's the finale, with the marriage ceremony taking place in front of a triumphal arch decorated with horses and gilded statuettes.

This much-loved Italian story is thought to have been passed down from generation to generation by Italian storytellers before being set down in print by the 14th-century Florentine poet Boccaccio in his series of novellas, known as the 'Decameron'. The scenes would most likely have been set into the walls of a wooden-panelled room, such as a marriage chamber, and the messages they convey about faith and constancy would have been fitting for the home of a newly wed couple.