Based on Ovid's "Metamorphoses"
version, this painting tells the story of the tragic love of Thisbe and Pyramus, an acient Greek/Roman Romeo and Juliet
tragedy. The two lovers occupied ajoining houses in the city of Babylon. Although they were forbidden by their parents to wed, they communicated their affections in whispers through a crack in one of the connecting walls, a scene illustrated by many artists. A refrence to John William Waterhouse is made in the pattern that I incorporated on the trim of Thisbe's clothing, borrowed from Waterhouse's "Thisbe."
One night, they decided to run away together to marry, and arranged a meeting point near Ninus' tomb under a mulberry tree at the edge of the city. When Thisbe, as the first to arrive, saw a lioness at their destination point, she hid from the animal afraid, unknowingly dropping her veil. When Pyramus arrived moments later, he was horrified at the sight of Thisbe's veil, assuming that the fierce beast had killed her. Blaming himself for not arriving sooner, Pyramus vowed his eternal love for Thisbe and killed himself with his sword, splashing blood on the white mulberry fruits, staining them red:
"The berries, stain'd with blood, began to show
A dark complexion, and forgot their snow;
While fatten'd with the flowing gore, the root
Was doom'd for ever to a purple fruit."
When Thisbe emerged from her hiding place, she noted the red-berried tree: "The tomb, the tree, but not the fruit she knew,The fruit she doubted for its alter'd hue."
When she found Pyramus' body and realised that he had thought her dead and taken his life, she vowed to follow Pyramus and asked the gods to commemorate their love and retain the red fruit on the tree:
"Thou, tree, where now one lifeless lump is laid,
Ere-long o'er two shalt cast a friendly shade.
Still let our loves from thee be understood,
Still witness in thy purple fruit our blood."
The gods listened to Thisbe's lament, and forever changed the colour of the mulberry fruits from white to the stained red in honour of their love. The lovers' parents finally recognised their desire to be together and both bodies were burried in a shared tomb, to have in death what they were forbidden in life.