Self-Portrait as an Allegory of Painting

Artemisia Gentileschi

A woman in a man's world, a woman
making a claim, choosing her own body
as the source of inspiration, wearing, as Pittura did,
a gold chain bearing the mask of imitation:
her tousled hair and muscled arms,
the shifting gold-green colors of her dress,
her sleeve rolled to the elbow,
the light striking  her brow and the shadow
made by the mask-shaped charm against flesh,
the double mirrors she used to paint herself,
the act of it captured mid-gesture,
the paint laid out as her father taught her:
white near the thumb then red, brown, green,
her well-curved body bending around the canvas,
the calculated self-image occupying
the full height of the picture, her unromanticized face,
dramatically lit, composed, the bare bodice,
the rolled-up sleeve, her eyes turned upward,
her right arm raised, its movement frozen,
the mind in motion, her wide, searching gaze.

Francine Sterle, "Self-Portrait as an Allegory of Painting" from Nude in Winter. Copyright © 2006 by Francine Sterle.  Reprinted by permission of Tupelo Press.
Source: Nude in Winter (Tupelo Press, 2006)
More Poems by Francine Sterle