Gesta Romanorum Vol. I (1871)/Of the beauty of a faithful Mind

Gesta Romanorum Vol. I  (1871) 
Anonymous, translated by Charles Swan
Of the beauty of a faithful Mind



When Salus was emperor, there lived a very beautiful woman whose name was Florentina. She was so remarkably handsome, that three kings sought her love, by one of whom she was abused. This occasioned a war between them, and great numbers of men fell on both sides. But the nobles, unwilling to see so much waste of blood, interfered, and addressing the emperor, bade him observe, that unless a stop was put to the virulent animosity which divided them, the whole kingdom would be annihilated. The emperor, duly considering what had been said, directed letters, impressed with the royal signet, to be sent to the fair occasion of the war; by which, without delay, she was commanded to appear before him. A herald bore the mandate, but before he could deliver it she died. The herald, therefore, returned, and the emperor, very much regretting that he had lost sight of so beautiful a woman, caused all the best artists in the kingdom to be summoned into his presence. When they were assembled, he spoke as follows: "My friends, the reason that I have sent for you is this. There was a very beautiful woman, named Florentina, for whose love a great number of men have lost their lives. She died before I had an opportunity of seeing her. Do ye go, therefore; paint her to the life, as she was in all her beauty. Thus shall I discover wherefore so many were sacrificed." The artists, answered, "Your majesty wishes a thing which is very difficult to execute. Her beauty was so surpassing, that not all the artists in the world, save one, would be able to do her justice; and he hides himself amongst the mountains. But he alone can perfectly fulfil your desires." On receiving this information, messengers were despatched in pursuit of him. He was soon found, and brought before the curious monarch, who commanded him to paint Florentina as she appeared when living; and if he did it, his reward should be royal. "Your request is extremely difficult," said the painter, "nevertheless, cause all the beautiful women in your kingdom to come before me for an hour at least, and I will do as you desire." The emperor complied, and made them stand in his presence. From these the artist selected four, and permitted the rest to return home. Then he commenced his labours. First, he laid on a coat of red colour; and whatever was exquisitely beautiful in the four women, that he copied in his painting. In this manner it received its completion; and when the emperor beheld it, he said, "Oh, Florentina, had you lived to eternity, you ought to have loved that painter who has represented you in so much beauty."


My beloved, the emperor is God; the beautiful Florentina is the soul. The three kings, the devil, the world, and the flesh. The nobles are the patriarchs and prophets, who were the mediators between God and man. The painters are the angels and men, amongst whom there was found no one who would rescue the soul from death. The artist who came from the mountains is Christ. The red colour is blood; the four women are existence, growth, feeling, and understanding.