The Course of Beauty

An arc of peerless flesh curves from shoulder to shoulder,  by golden braid and a row of bows dancing like black stars.  No bone insults the hallowed skin, the worshipful softness.

The ferroniere chases across the temples of her forehead, simple and devout.  Below, her eyes are large and mischievous – unknown, like an animal:  she is not prepared to attack, but to purr, to curl around an inquisitive hand.  With hands frozen in an elegant question, and fingers molded into silent words and accents, the lady is a celebration of mystery.  Warm, yet divine, her living dimensions are a seductive joy.

Her dress is a prison of black and gold bars, with sheaths of beige satin escaping to curve around her arms and pour down her back in pale currents.  Nature’s pretty toy, she poses in front of an Italian landscape shrouded in a green and blue fog – as if the ocean had descended from the sky in maritime clouds, in a salty twilight.

Beatrice d’Este was one of the brightest stars that spun and fell in the passionate sky of the Renaissance.  She was not an artist, or a scientist…she did not build; she did not study the cold bliss of mathematics.  But she had charm, wit, intelligence and unconventional allure – qualities reflected in her portrait, in her dark roguish eyes.  She was that most exotic of creatures:  a cultured woman who dared to express herself.  She was a symbol of the old century ending and of a new era beginning.

In 1491 she was 15 years old and betrothed to Ludovico Sforza, the Duke of Milan.  Swarthy and coarse, he was called Il Moro and ruled over one of the richest courts in Italy.  Created from the wealth of the condottieri soldiers who roamed throughout Italy like nomadic princes, this court was now a gathering place for artists and philosophers.  For the Sforza marriage, Leonardo da Vinci presented Beatrice with her portrait – a profile set against a black background, it is a careful architectural study of her face, a loving trajectory charting the map of her beauty.

Ludovico bookmarked his married life with bastard sons:  one born shortly after his marriage, the other born the year of Beatrice’s death.  That year was 1497, when, not yet 22, she died shortly after giving birth to her third child – a stillborn boy.

Perhaps she felt her life draining from her as they took as they took the lifeless body of the child from her arms.  Perhaps she fainted from the poisoned blood rioting through her veins.  Perhaps she  knew that she had offered beauty up to a woman’s duty and that it had finally run its course.

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11 responses to “The Course of Beauty

  1. Absolutely beautiful, and so tragic…

  2. Lovely post, but is part of it missing? “Swarthy and coarse, he was called Il Moro was ruled over one of the richest courts of Italy. “

  3. You do such a lovely job of giving these pieces of art their poignant context.

  4. my heart breaks for the poor girl, I am so honored that centuries of women fought so that I can have the life I have now. Thank you Beatrice.

  5. This is one of the most beautiful portraits yet. So short a life. Sigh.

  6. A reminder that birth control really has empowered women. Let our intellects grow stronger than our biology.

  7. I’ve long enjoyed the written lead-ups to the image of the character d’jour and ever try not to peek ahead. Hers is an inspiring and interesting portrait indeed.

  8. Swarthy and coarse. Do we have his portrait also? The good die young as they say. Whoever “they” are.

  9. Too sad, too too sad, and too often repeated throughout history

  10. Dora – Thank you; from all accounts, she was a happy creature while she lived.

    elizs – Gosh! Thats what I get for posting at 1AM!

    laurieWAB – And now I’m casting around for my next subject…it’s a lovely, empowering feeling.

    lavendersblueDD – She could surround herself with culture and politics…as long as she would give her husband babies.

    Lauri – Her wayward look always caught me; it’s a magnificent portrait.

    Red(z) – So many deaths in childbirth due to ignorance or becuase of bodies not ready to bear children. It was the Calvinists’ belief that it was a woman’s duty to die in childbirth.

    AlleyCat – But I love the pictures! I alway sloved the portrait – never realized such a clever and winsome personality was living behind it.

    DancingBear – Here you go:

    A beauty, isn’t he?

  11. I appreciated the final sentence. She is actually one of the ones I see from time to time and wonder about. At this point, I’m starting to wonder if they all ended in this sort of aimless tragedy, though.

    I like how you described her to make me see her as sort of a cat in the beginning.

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