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Written after a visit to the Leonardo Da Vinci exhibition at London's National Gallery in 2011 - in particular the Medici wife and mistress glaring from different portraits in the same room.

Leonardo at the National Gallery

Screen_shot_2017-12-05_at_08.50.24by Patrick Howse11 Jul 2013

They sit ignoring each other.

The mistress of his patron faces you
When you finally fight your way in:
Sixteen, the kept lover of a duke,
She proclaims her purity by cuddling a stoat.

At right angles, the same duke’s
Wife stares at me provocatively gorgeous,
Far outshining her rival for her husband’s
Finite attention, caresses, and semen.

The room is so crowded it’s a struggle
To get close enough to marvel:
But this woman’s face is as fresh
As when his eye judged the colours of hers

And his hand touched this board;
For a moment she lives for me
As vividly as when his brow
Was furrowed with the alchemical effort

Of transforming genius into brush-strokes:
His gift, to her and now to me
Is to inflame my sudden desire
For a woman dead five hundred years.

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