Self portrait as Winter

The physician has said there is nothing else he can do. His tinctures: the celandine, the eyebright, are to no avail. She is everywhere surrounded by a grey mist.
‘I have rubbed too much chalk into my eyes,’ she tells him.
‘You have used your eyes too much, Signora Carriera, and are running out of vision.’ He shakes his head. ‘You must not strain your eyes any more.’

Her vision is her life, has always been, ever since starting out as a young girl, when she painted the most exquisite miniatures on ivory lids for snuff boxes. Her vision feeds her imagination. She begs him to recommend her to the surgeon, whose knife is said to restore sight, by cleaning out the hole in the centre of the iris.
‘Does it hurt very much?’ Her eyes water just at the thought of it: the scalpel in the eye, when a stray eyelash is bad enough.
He shakes his head again.
‘That, madam, may ruin your eyes altogether. I cannot recommend it.’ He takes his leave, advising her to continue with the tincture of eyebright. A gust of icy wind blows the door shut.

Rosalba takes the little phial and places it on the shelf.

I have still so many pictures I would like to make. But they do not come to me now, my sitters. They have no wish to sit for an old woman with failing eyesight, to hear my stories of Maximilian of Bavaria, or August of Saxony, or King Louis of France. They do not want to hear how I invented pastel sticks. My chalk-pastel portraits have flattered so many of rank and fashion: kings and courtesans, princesses and adventurers. The technique was all the rage: thin layers of white chalk shimmering on a richly coloured ground created their satins, their velvets, their falls of powdered hair. My work was ordered for the palaces of Paris, Vienna and Dresden. KIng George III of England added my pastels to his collection. But I should not have let that dust into my eyes. Now no-one calls.

Rosalba Carriera, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

When I have no clients I still must draw, to keep making pictures until this mist veils all. I have myself, my face ever changing as each season carries me further from my youth. I once drew myself as Winter: strokes of misty chalk created blue velvet and grey ermine around my unadorned face. Now it is truly winter, for snow is falling on Venice and outside the domes and spires will glisten white like confections iced in sugar. Winter is coming to find me.

I know my own face so well that I barely need my sight and can draw it with complete honesty. My cap ribbons: I colour them blue because I know they are blue, my dress is blue, my pearls grey with a soft gleam of white. My eyes are misted over, the left eye strays aside. There’s no need for flattery now, for who will care to look?

She lights the candles around her easel and proceeds.

© 2021