Wednesday, November 9, 2011


(Isabella d'Este, Titian, 1534, Kunsthistoriches Museum, Vienna)

The chink in Isabella's armor is one that nearly every woman can identify with in one way or another.

In fact, it seems to be a curse - sometimes a "blessing"-  that follows us from the minute we gasp our first breath of air until the moment we depart from this life.

For some, it is an issue that looms ghost-like over their feminine experience.

For others,  the ghost becomes all too real.

It can swallow a woman alive and destroy her mind, body and spirit.

The chink certainly played havoc in the life of Isabella d'Este.


when Isabella peered into her mirror, she did not like what she saw.

One writer has described Isabella as having "a lively grace."

What exactly does this mean?

Perhaps we'll never really know - at least in terms of Renaissance sensibilities.

But, for me, I think it implies that Isabella possessed a bright and shining personality.

I'm sure it also means that she enjoyed being around and interacting with people.

The word "grace" implies that Isabella knew how to move herself around a room full of people.

I'm thinking that she didn't step on a lot of literal toes.

And I doubt if she jostled many elbows as she breezed through a Renaissance salon in her pouffy embroidered gown

I would like to believe that Isabella's "lively grace" prompted her to be kind, compassionate and empathetic to those around her as well.

The same author states that Isabella possessed "lively eyes."

That's easy, isn't it?

The eyes being the windows of the soul and all.

I think we could safely say that Isabella's eyes shown brightly.

That's because they were filled with an inner light that sparked her very being.

Well, I don't know about you, but I'm sold.

Sign me up for the next shindig at Isabella's place!

I'll admit it.

I'm unabashedly charmed by people with Isabella's social skills and talents.

Our writer completes his critique of our lady's physical appearance with these words:

"She was slightly plump."

* * * * * *

Several months ago I heard about a woman named Aunt Kathy who was "slightly plump" as well.

Whenever family photographs were taken, Aunt Kathy refused to be in them.

She was embarrassed by her physical appearance.

Aunt Kathy's family adored her fun-loving spirit and engaging personality.

She was the life of every family gathering.

Then one day she passed away.

Soon, Aunt Kathy's loved ones began to hunt for a photograph of their beloved aunt.

They wanted a picture of her to help remind them of all the wonderful times they had shared with their "lively" Aunt Kathy.

But there were no pictures to be found - anywhere.

By refusing to have her picture taken, Aunt Kathy had in effect erased herself from mortal life.

All because she was "slightly plump."

That's one of the saddest stories I've ever heard.

Here's another one:

Some years ago, I watched a talk show about the pros and cons of face lifts.

A woman named Susan was interviewed at length by the host.

Susan admitted to having 26 face lift procedures done on herself over time.

Her face had been pulled so tightly across her head that her distinguishing features were no longer visible.

The host asked Susan this question:  "Why have you been willing to endure the pain of 26 face lifts?"

Susan's answer startled me:  "I know I have gained more beauty and self-esteem with each of my surgeries.  Each one has made me feel better about myself."

Next, the host held up a glossy 8 x 10 of Susan's pre-surgery face for millions to see.

I stared at the image in disbelief.

Susan had been a beautiful young woman with lovely features - perfectly proportioned in every way.

What IS it about us women?

What brings us to the point in life where we no longer believe we are beautiful just the way we are?

Are we born with these debilitating ideas in our little baby girl heads?

Or have they been drummed into our brains by our cultures over time?

Perhaps it's both of these things and a whole lot more.

* * * * * *

These are the words on the wall plate that accompanies Isabella's bust in the Kimbell:

"Isabella was not as attractive as she would have liked, and often complained that her portraits were unflattering."

Please allow me to illustrate this point with the following information:

The image at the beginning of this post is a portrait of Isabella painted by the great Venetian artist, Titian.

She was 60 years old at the time of the sitting.

(Detail of Titian's Isabella at top of post)

That's right.

Sixty years old.

That's gotta be the spiffiest 60 year old woman I've ever seen!

Now, for more of the story:

Originally, Titian had painted a more age appropriate Isabella.

But she wouldn't accept it.

Isabella was so unhappy with the first portrait that she made Titian go back to his canvas a second time.

The result?

A much younger looking Isabella.

Experts believe that she looks about 40 years younger, in fact!

Obviously, Isabella was not a proponent of truth in advertising.

We don't know if Flemish painter, Peter Paul Rubens, was either, for that matter.

One day Rubens decided to copy the original portrait that Titian had painted 65 years earlier.

(Today, Titian's original portrait of Isabella no longer exists.)

The image below is Ruben's interpretation of Titian's portrait - the one that Isabella did not like.

(Isabella d'Este, Rubens, 1605, Kunst Historiches Museum, Vienna)
{This portrait of Isabella was painted 65 years after her death}

Did Rubens age Isabella?

I'm thinking not a lot.

Did he put a little weight on her?

I think it's possible.

What do you think?

The larger question is this:

Why does any of this  matter?

Because it doesn't for women of any age who have leaned to divorce themselves from the tyranny of their culture's perceptions of beauty.

Admittedly, this is not an easy thing to do.

And it doesn't matter to a woman who has grown to love herself over a lifetime of challenges that have taught her who she really is.

Easier - but watch out for tricky obstacles along the way.


I would have loved to have seen the stick-my-face-out-there, 60 year old Isabella.

Wrinkles, lines, and saggy chin.

Bring it all on, girl!

Something tells me that you, my dear, were one hot tamale!

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