Thursday 18 June 2015

Ekphrastic Porter

A Portrait by Giulio Romano
by Peter Porter

Dear long-dead lady,
what was it like in the world
of Aretine's postures?
The highlights of your beauty
are a blond tombeau
but you are in a cage.

Your white skin and your red
velvet dress - the uniform of love!
They have shaken out boxes
before your eyes, they have formed
letters on your lips, and held
your legs apart for the state.

We are wrecked on red dreams.
Eloquence is quickness,
the flying to extremes -
your pose and prettiness
are to keep off endings,
the highmindedness of hell.

The portrait of Dona Isabel de Requesens, vicereine of Naples, was formerly attributed to Raphael, who did indeed have a hand in it. It's a portrait rich is sensuous textures and colours, and the pose is extraordinarily provocative, not least in the placing of the hands and the fact that the knees are parted and the gaze unflinchingly fixed on the spectator. Yet it has an air of intense melancholy, a sense of a doomed situation in which the beautiful sitter is imprisoned. Porter's fine short poem, I think, captures all that and more.
['Aretine' is Pietro Aretino, pioneer of literary pornography.]


  1. What on earth is he talking about in that final stanza? Can you help Nige?

  2. Oh, guess you feel the same way.

  3. Looked up Pietro Aretino's Sonnetti Lussuriosi after reading your note (I read Italian). Wow! I see what you mean.