Portrait of a Witch

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Alouette Arsenault was cursed with the ability to paint anything.

That’s the way she looked at her talent. Her work was so realistic it actually looked like photographs of people and landscapes.

It was the people part where the curse came in.

Alouette was a simple country girl born in the south of France in 1565.

When her mother was burned at the stake for being a witch, she was taken by her aunt Aimitee, who raised her from an infant in a hut located in the middle of the Aquitaine forest.

It was her ability to depict things around her in charcoal at an early age that caught Aimitee’s attention. She watched Alouette draw imaginary friends and the world around her with pride. She was a born artist who deserved to work in more lasting mediums.
When Alouette turned fourteen, Aimitee took her to Paris. She had a brother who lived there, and he took them in. With his help, and the money Aimitee made sewing people’s clothes, she was sent to a nearby art studio.

As the only female there, she suffered constant indignities, but the master, Ferdinand Elle, let her stay after interviewing her aunt. When shown examples of her work he was impressed. He saw something that none of the jealous young male artists in his studio had going for them; Alouette was a natural artist with an exceptional eye for detail. It was that eye for detail that most impressed Elle. He was astounded at the confident ease with which she quickly rendered her work. His instinct told him she was something special. Otherworldly even.

Using oil on canvas, Alouette painted her first portrait at fifteen years-old. It was of a minor city official. Elle allowed her to have the commission, and to paint her customer in the studio. After studying the client’s face, she saw a hint of a shy smile. When she was finished the client was overjoyed with her work. From that point forward he was a transformed man. Where once he spent all of his time worrying about things, he was now impossibly happy. His life transformed.
Of course, the client sang Alouette’s praise to everyone who would listen. It wasn’t long before new clients came in asking for her at the master’s studio. It came as no surprise to Elle who decided to charge her rent for the use of the studio, and materials.

Alouette didn’t make the connection with how happy her first client’s life became. How could she? She never saw him again. Nor was she aware of her second clients transformation who insisted she paint him frowning (he said it was an aristocratic pose). When his portrait was complete his normally mild nature turned into a combative one.

This went on for over a year. She painted clients whose lives changed for better or worse afterwards. Leading a hermit-like existence she was content to stay in her little bubble and paint. Elle watched proudly as each work became a masterpiece.

But people began to talk, and compare results among themselves after Alouette painted their portraits. Some noted that there lives had improved and they were happier. But others talked about people being so sad after getting their portrait painted, they committed suicide. Rumors spread claiming that she worked for the devil and had signed an evil pact with the dark lord. Her growing infamy swirled through the streets of Paris, fueled by fears that she was practicing witchcraft on them.

People became more and more concerned it was the devil’s work. Worse, it was a very superstitious time in Europe, where hundreds of women were being burned at the stake, hung, or drowned in trials designed to see if they were a witch. The mania descended upon Paris like a plague with groups of witch-hunters prowling the streets.
Alouette quit painting portraits the moment she heard the rumors. When she began refusing to paint anymore clients Elle took her aside and asked, “What’s happening little one?” even though he’d also heard the rumors.

“I cannot paint any longer master Elle,” she said.

“I knew you were a witch a long time ago. That’s because I’m a warlock!”

“Witch!” she cried out in shock. “You mean, I’m really a witch?” she sobbed.

“Yes. calm down my dear. We have work to do. I’ve been meaning to tell you this. Trust me. It will be your greatest work, I assure you. Now listen to me. One of the many reasons you’re such a talented artist is because you have a great memory.
“We must put this memory to the test. I will walk with you through town and you must pay attention to everyone you see, especially city officials. Fix their faces in your wonderful ¬†memory as we stroll through the streets.”

It only took her three days to finish the painting. It was massive. The largest in the studio. It was full of all the people of Paris. They all had big smiles as they went about their daily routines. Elles hid the final product, which was titled, “Gay Parie in the Springtime,” in a secret vault below the studio. As long as the masterpiece remained intact, peace and tranquility would be assured for all Parisians. The witch hunts came to a halt afterward.

The mania that had infected the city was gone, allowing Alouette to once again move¬†freely about in society. But her desire to paint was no longer there. She became wary of her powerful ability to affect people’s lives and eventually decided to quit painting altogether.

Her gratitude to Elle was endless. The old warlock had taught her many things. By revealing her power he opened up her inner eye, unlocking mysteries from her unconscious mind. When the time came to move on Alouette wept and kissed her mentor.

She left Paris for the countryside to live with her aunt Aimitee, disappearing into the dusty footnotes of history.

As It Stands, I’ve often wondered why there weren’t more women artists during the Renaissance period in the western world.

(1st published May 2017, As It Stands)