The Rebellious Daughter

How sullen she looks:  a quiet face posing an adolescent threat.  Perhaps she resents staying indoors – maybe the weather had relented and that long-ago day was sunny and beckoning.  She could feel the sunlight vibrate through the dark walls.  Her limbs itched to run through the fields – long since evaporated into the ground – to live heart-to-heart with the outside world.  Her restive eyes glint to the side, focused in silent indignation.

But the painter was wise enough to let the child fume and pout, rather than leaving his paints – smelling of oils, ground spices and eggshell – to straighten his charge's face into an obedient stare.

She must be 15 or 16 years old – this nameless girl.  The reason for this portrait could be parental pride:  not in a beloved daughter, but in the fact that the family had the means to dress their children well – even the daughters.  Or it could be a bill of sale – a portrait for a prospective bridegroom.  Perhaps this witty girl sensed these reasons and balked at what her parents thought of her and what they were planning for her.

Her forehead has been plucked, as well as her eyebrows.  Her hair is pulled back and lies hidden, like a coiled animal, inside the black velvet hennin.  Her complexion is a frost that has chrystallized on a flower's surface - preserving it forever, while at the same time killing the bloom.  She has been submitted to cosmetic trickeries; but she carries her feminine wiles resentfully.  

It was easy to tell this girl's future.  It was in the narrow shoulders overcome by the brocade grip of medieval velvet.  It was evident in the rich fur collar that parted to expose a child's spotless, androgynous chest.  It could be seen in the withdrawn face, lost in an adult's vision. 

And yet…I can't avoid the coy, slanted eyes that obstinitely refused to look at thte painter; and the firm – almost stubborn mouth.  From a distance of six centuries I hear her clear whisper in my ear, saying, 'I think not.'

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15 responses to “The Rebellious Daughter

  1. excellent. as always.

  2. Maybe she resents the goofy hat, no? But yes, those eyes express volumes.

  3. For the time, that headpiece would be considered subtle! Maybe once she marries, she would be expected to wear pieces that rose feet into the air, ending in a conical point – something in danger of flying off in a high wind.

  4. Right. Think Elizabeth I 🙂

  5. what an amazing face! Who was the artist?

  6. Petrus Christus. He painted in the style of a contemporary, Jan Van Eyck. He was born in…Antwerp, I think? He was a typical Northern artist, painting luminous works, using layers of tinted oils.
    This is considered his finest work. I've always loved it.

  7. thanks. I can see the similarities with Van Eyck but actually like this more.

  8. What excellent writing Aubrey! I love the idea of her hair as a coiled animal. I wish I could write more, but my kids are up. I really did enjoy reading this – all of it.Lucy

  9. 'I think not' – absolutely. That phrase captures the spirit of the painting. How things stay the same! Swap the clothing for something more contemporary and this could be any of today's young ladies, annoyed at having to do someone else's bidding.

  10. Great description – her eyes really do say it all!

  11. I love Petrus Christus…all that smooth Flemish pallor.

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