Her Letter to a Patron, Naples 1649

Since you ask the price
of my figures, I will tell you.
Signore: one hundred scudi per figure
Or you will not possess
A canvas by Artemisia.
My painted flesh will never crack
Like Anguissola’s . She clothed
herself in reticent colors.
My Judith’s strong arm
ends in a sword.

In each canvas, I battle
with light and shade, so
at nineteen I was taught
by the man my fathers hired.
His hand guided mine
as we painted callas,
their red heads hissing
with the sun. We entered the clash
of ash and flame until
as I commanded surrender,
he broke the brush
from my hand, tore
the clothes from my breast,
and forced me to the ground.
Thumbscrew at my nail,
I was accused of invited rape,
but I defended only my virtue
lost in a fallen brush.

Now I paint Judith.
Unarmed, she walked
into the tent of Holofernes.
With only a candle,
she made him drunk
with ease and certainty.
I have beheaded many men.

Each canvas a study
in brocade and blood,
my maid holds the fruit
of the general’s head
while I, with sword
and candle, listen
for the approach of fame.

You ask for a madonna.
My madonnas are few.
Signore, the soul of Caesar
lives in this woman.
Mary means nothing to me.
My painter’s strong arm
ends in a sword.