This painting (oil on canvas) describes Count Guiccioli (left), the young Contessa Guiccioli, and Lord Byron (right). A chance meeting with Teresa Guiccioli (1800-1873) changed the course of Lord Byron's life. Last of his many loves, he behaved as if she were the first. The evening they met they talked excitedly of poetry, particularly that of Dante and Petrarch. The year prior, Teresa, fresh out of convent school, had become the third wife of the rich and eccentric sixty-year-old Count Guiccioli in a marriage of convenience. In Italian custom there was a place for a discreet attendant, a cavalier servente, in a marriage of convenience such as Teresa's. But although he could pay court to her, the role excluded public recognition of them as a couple. This was not enough for Byron. He wanted a relationship that was lasting. As Teresa put it, he was:
"...not a man to confine himself to sentiment. And the first step taken, there was no further obstacles in the following days."
Breaking all the rules established by aristocratic Italian society, the couple spent ten days together, openly, in Venice. This was no casual liaison for Byron. As he wrote to a friend:
"What shall I do? I am in love, and tired of promiscuous concubinage, and have now an opportunity of settling for life."
As the love between Byron and Teresa deepened, so his friendship with her father and brother grew. They initiated him into the secret revolutionary society, the Carbonari, to which he gave money for arms. This activity was closely monitored by the Austrian police, and in 1821 the Gambas were exiled from Ravenna. Teresa was by now seeking a separation from her husband, and she and Byron accompanied them.
The following year, in Genoa, an unfriendly spy spread an unkind rumour:
"It is said that he is already sated or tired of Favorite, the Guiccioli. He has ... expressed his intention of going to Athens in order to make himself adored by the Greeks."
In fact, Byron's energies, reinvigorated by his love for Teresa, now turned from the cause of Italy - where police scrutiny rendered him powerless - to that of Greece.
Fever struck him down, and on 19 April 1824, and he died murmuring in delirium that there were:
"... things which make the world dear to me."
Was the image of Teresa in his mind? She believed so. All her life she defended his memory, and on her own deathbed she wrote:
"The more Byron is known, the better he will be loved."
In her copy of Corinne she had underlined the words of his letter and written simply:
"God bless him."