Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Lisa Gherardini

I was born into the wealthy Gherardini family in Tuscany in 1479 and grew up at the Villa Vignamaggio, our ancestral home. When I was sixteen, I married a wealthy silk merchant from Florence.

My husband, Francesco, had a very good friend whose son was a painter. He commissioned his son to paint my portrait, as a gift to my husband. The sittings started when I was 24, but the picture was not finished until four years later. By that time I had five children and was a good bit plumper that when he started.

The artist had many irons in the fire – he was always flitting off to work on another of his projects and left many of his paintings unfinished. Meanwhile, I looked forward to the times when he showed up to work on my portrait – he told me wonderful stories that kept me enthralled so that I should not fidget.

A lot of the time I didn't understand what he was talking about, but I didn't like to let on, so I just sat there with a smile and tried to look intelligent. Sometimes he was depressed and muttered about being "a time-warp Robinson Crusoe":

"Never buy a cheap knock-off trans-temporal capsule in Hong Kong!" he would growl at me, "you'll find yourself stranded where dentistry is unheard of!" And then he told me to smile with my lips closed. "We don't want to freak out the punters at the Louvre with that orthodontic disaster area in your mouth– it will just encourage that maniac Dan Brown!" I had no idea what he was on about, but I obediently closed my mouth and tried to look mysterious and enigmatic.

When he was in a good mood, he told me stories about the mythical kingdom of Hollywood, the goddess Marilyn, the great wizard Billgates and many other fantasies about things like flying machines, singing beetles, rolling stones and moving pictures.

My portrait was one of the first to portray the sitter with a landscape in the background: another groundbreaking innovation! The ethereal, timeless scene behind me is a valley just a few parsecs from Betelgeuse, he told me, where he once spent a very pleasant holiday on a cheap Richard Branson Space Excursion. I just smiled enigmatically. My geography was never very good. Betelgeuse must be somewhere in Spain.

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