This post was co-authored by Rebecca Long, Curatorial Assistant for European Painting and Sculpture to 1945, and Petra Slinkard, Curatorial Associate of Textile and Fashion Arts/European Painting and Sculpture to 1945.
Fashion designer and Italian aristocrat, Emilio Pucci is perhaps best known for his brilliant, sinuous prints. Inspired first by the atmosphere on the Island of Capri, Marchese Emilio Pucci di Barsento (1914-1992) began designing clothing for women in 1949, opening a small shop a few years later. Preoccupied with the absurd constraints popular clothing of the time imposed on women; he re-conceptualized menswear for women, as resort wear. Loose fitting shift dresses, palazzo pants and blouses, created out of luxurious hand-painted silks. The instantly recognizable Pucci brand was highly sought after for much of the 1950s and 1960s.
Emilio regularly looked to his heritage for inspiration; his ancestry can be traced back to both Lorenzo de Medici and Catherine the Great. “Possibly the greatest misconception about Emilio Pucci is that the prints that made the brand famous are abstract. In fact, they are drawings, often simply inspired by objects, or Pucci’s home surroundings…” (Pucci: Fashion Story, 2010, pg. 107)
Considered a Renaissance man by many , he was “… fascinated by his roots, and art and architecture; you can actually see it in his work. On my honeymoon in Capri in 1953, I remember going to his shop and being struck by how much the designs resembled Florentine mosaics. It was really extraordinary, although I don’t think a lot of people realized it.” –Rosita Missoni (Pucci: Fashion Story, 2010, pg. 42)
In 2009, the IMA acquired a silk scarf by Emilio Pucci, titled La Caccia or The Chase from his Botticelliana Collection, 1959. The motif for the scarf is inspired by the Stories of Nastagio degli Onesti by Sandro Botticelli.
In 1483 Sandro Botticelli was hired by the Florentine nobleman Antonio Pucci (a 15th century relative of Emilio’s) to create a series of paintings in celebration of the marriage of Pucci’s son Giannozzo to Lucrezia Bini. The paintings illustrate a tale from Boccaccio’s Decameron (1353), a collection of stories related by a group of characters over the course of ten days to amuse themselves as they fled Florence to escape from an outbreak of the plague.
Botticelli’s paintings tell the story of Nastagio degli Onesti, related by the character of Filomena on the fifth day of the Decameron. Nastagio is a young man from Ravenna who has fallen in love with a woman but been rejected. Despondent, he heads to the outskirts of the city to lick his wounds.
The first painting shows Nastagio in the forest, where he sees a nude woman being chased by dogs and a man on horseback. The man, Guido del Anastagi, fell in love with the woman but, like Nastagio, was rejected by her. He was so shattered by her rejection that he committed suicide. Nastagio is witnessing the duo’s eternal punishment—Guido sinned by committing suicide, and his beloved sinned by rejecting his love. They are condemned to repeat a “caccia infernale” (infernal hunt)—Guido chases her down and disembowels her, and feeds her heart and entrails to his dogs. The hunt is repeated over and over again, without end.
In the second painting, Nastagio flees from the violent scene as we see the hunt begin again in the background.
Nastagio is horrified by the violence he has seen, but at the same time inspired—he realizes that he can use the other couple’s punishment to convince his own beloved to end his torment. In the third painting, Nastagio has invited the object of his affection and her family to a banquet in the forest, knowing that it will be interrupted by the damned lovers’ chase. Nastagio’s beloved, to the left in a white dress, is understandably traumatized. After witnessing the violent torment rewarded to the woman who had rejected Guido’s love, she changes her mind about Nastagio. On the right, her servant tells Nastagio that his beloved will accept his proposal.
The final painting shows their sumptuous wedding banquet, with fashionably-dressed women seated on the left and the men on the right, while servants carry in platters of food. Portraits of Antonio Pucci and his patron Lorenzo de’ Medici are included amongst the men, and the Pucci, Medici, and Bini coats of arms are displayed above, along with branches of myrtle to symbolize love.
To a modern audience, the story of Nastagio seems like a rather gruesome and off-putting wedding gift for Giannzzo Pucci and Lucrezia Bini. It is perfectly in accord, however, with Renaissance notions of decorum, and familial and civic duty. In patriarchal Florentine society, Nastagio’s beloved was wrong to reject his suit, showing arrogance and independence which were not admirable qualities in a woman. The story reveals the importance of marriage in ensuring an organized society—neither man nor woman is meant to live in an unmarried state, and both should accept their respective roles in society, whatever their personal sacrifices may be, for the stability of their families and of Florence.
In 1967, Emilio purchased the painting upon learning The Wedding Banquet, 1483, was to be sold at an English auction house, and brought it back to Florence.
“He had been talking about that painting since we got married. I think it was probably his greatest achievement: to get back what his family had sold. To bring it home.” -Marchesa Christina Pucci
Like Botticelli’s paintings, Pucci’s story of La Caccia is divided into four sections. Although less gruesome, this version also depicts a chase, but in Pucci’s tale the prey is a stag or deer, rather than the ill-fated lover of Guido del Anastagi. In the first scene, lords, hunting dogs and horses prepare for a long journey into the hills of Italy. The horn sounds and the hunt begins.
In the second scene, the once unsuspecting, feeding deer become alarmed and try to escape, but the lords and hunting dogs are adept.
This scene portrays the victorious hunters ambling home with their game in tow.
The final scene, much like Botticelli’s fourth painting, The Wedding Banquet, depicts lords and ladies at an elaborate banquet in the woods feasting on the day’s kill. Servants attend to the couples while others prepare the leftovers. Note the Pucci coat of arms, on the table, center front, also visible in Botticelli’s paintings, The Banquet in the Pine Forest, and The Wedding Banquet, and the castle in the background, perhaps a reference to the Palazzo Pucci in Florence.