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.