In the painting, Isabella is caressing a pot of Basil that which she buried the head of her lover Lorenzo who her brothers murdered. Isabella and the pot of Basil depicts her as having left the bed moments ago in her semi-transparent nightgown. Isabella is experiencing insomnia and this is due to the grief she is experiencing. She created an altar for Lorenzo and an expensive embroidered cloth covers it. The majolica pot placed on top of the altar is where she placed Lorenzo's skull. It has skull decorations on it. Isabella's beautiful long black hair drapes over the pot and around the plant too. This image reflects the words of the poet John Keats "hung over her sweet Basil evermore." She sheds tears for her lost lover and from the poem, "and moistened it with tears unto the core."
Isabella and the pot of Basil well captures the theme of grief and beauty. Even though there is Lorenzo's head buried in the pot, Isabella is not shaken by it and she embraces it. The basil plant grows and nourishes due to the tears that Isabella sheds. It is not a romantic gesture, but rather it portrays how grief can give birth to something beautiful and valuable since the basil herb was considered a very valuable verb only to be dined by kings. Ironically, in her moment of grief, she brought forth a life of a very valuable plant, the Basil. The artist emphasises colour, sensuality and decorative features to show how the aesthetic movement is growing. His painting defied the art for art's sake rule since the artist prioritized its beauty before anything.
John William Waterhouse was perfect in both oil and watercolours paintings. Some of his artworks include; Lady of Shalott, Echo and Narcissus, The Siren, to name a few. John William Waterhouse found his inspiration from Frederic Leighton, whose paintings were mostly classical, biblical and historical. He came from an artistic household and this also fueled his desire to be a painter. Strong and beautiful females were also a source of inspiration for his artistic works. He later inspired artists such as John White Alexander, who adopted his style in art.