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This painting illustrates a dramatic scene from Giovanni Boccaccio’s celebrated medieval novel, the Decameron. The heroine Sigismunda holds a golden goblet sent to her by her father, Prince Tancred. Inside, is the heart of her dead husband, Giuscardo – one of Tancred’s servants. He has murdered him, enraged by their unsuitable secret marriage.This was Hogarth’s most deliberate attempt to prove that modern English painters could handle heroic themes as convincingly as the revered Italian old masters. But the picture received such harsh criticism that he almost completely abandoned painting for the last years of his life.

May 2007