3 Jul 2023
After Titian’s Portrait d’une Femme
à sa Toilette (1515)
Numb as ice, elbows and fingers. Yet I smile
as you order. Play the enigmatic belle
torrent of crinkled hair caught above slim
shoulder, eyes black with pleasure at the smell
of unguent oozed on wrist, the louche slide
of linen on washed skin. Behind me, a shield
shaped mirror, a page whose very glance bleeds
juvenile desire. Cramp gnaws my goosebump limbs
your rainbow-crusted hands. Each blemish
painted out, peach-bloom flesh brushed edible
for merchant appetites. Together, we cook a fine dish
you and I, ambrosian fare confected of lies.
Behind the poem...
My poem Embellished (‘A Gram of &s’ poem – a form devised by poet Terrance Hayes) was born of my fascination with Titian’s Portrait d’une Femme à sa Toilette. It shows a young woman, partly clothed, with a page who is holding up a mirror while she dresses her hair. I thought about the life of Titian’s model: probably a Venetian sex worker, as well as his mistress. About how this portrait was a collaborative effort between the two of them – woman and artist – to make a seductive female image for a rich male audience. But how true is it as a portrait of the real her? Did she and Titian see it as a clever fabrication? Is this all art ever is?