The Marriage Portrait

by Maggie O'Farrell

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This Journey’s True Design–Scorched Earth Summary

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Last Updated on November 3, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 805

This Journey’s True Design

In the present, waking in her chambers at the hunting lodge and noting Alfonso sleeping beside her, Lucrezia is struck with inspiration for a painting that she feels must be completed at once. Dismayed, she realizes she hasn’t brought all the tools with her for the work’s execution.

Inspired to begin anyway, she slips out of bed and feels briefly hopeful. Perhaps this really is just a relaxing recovery trip for the two of them, she considers, eager to begin work on her next masterpiece. She vows to recalibrate her attentions, attending to Alfonso in the daytime and working on her painting in the evenings.

Something Read in the Pages of a Book

Together, Sofia and Lucrezia conspire to conceal her menses for nearly a year. Linens and garments needing washing are cleaned in secret, and anything permanently stained is burned. Shortly after she turns thirteen, Eleanora visits the nursery and discovers a red stain on Lucrezia’s nightgown. Elated, Eleanora and Cosimo announce Lucrezia’s readiness to the Ferrarese court. The marriage contracts are negotiated and signed despite Lucrezia’s protestations, and soon preparations for the wedding are well underway.

A letter from Alfonso arrives for Lucrezia, along with two packages. Inside them, she finds an expected gift and an unexpected one: a piece of grand betrothal jewelry, much too ornate for her, and an oil painting of a strange small mammal. In an attached note, Alfonso writes that he recalls from their first meeting her unique affinity for beasts. The painting, he explains, is a stone marten, and it hung in his room throughout his childhood. Lucrezia, struck by the irregularity and impropriety of this gift—she expected, per tradition, a boring portrait of her betrothed—is charmed. Isabella, her sister, is less amused. “Who sends a rat and a jewel?,” she muses as Lucrezia writes her response.

Somewhere in the Darkness

In the present, waking for a second time in her unfamiliar chambers at the hunting lodge, Lucrezia feels intensely nauseous. Alfonso has left, she notices, and she calls for her maidservants before remembering that they were left at home.

She rolls out of bed and vomits until she is shaking. Lucrezia realizes she might die.

The Duchess Lucrezia on her Wedding Day

The palazzo bustles with preparations for Lucrezia’s wedding to Alfonso, and several servants have been drafted into helping her get dressed for the ceremony. One, a girl about Lucrezia’s age with fair hair and a long scar on her face, seems much more tender with her than the others. As they ceremoniously place the newly altered components of the gold wedding dress on her, Lucrezia can only think that it should have been Maria. Everyone else must be thinking this, too, she muses.

Presented to the public at the threshold of the palazzo, Lucrezia steps outside its walls for the first time. Instantly struck by the noise, the crowd, and the seemingly infinite variations of the human face before her, Lucrezia is overwhelmed as she walks toward the open carriage waiting to take her to the church. Inside, she sits opposite her parents. She attempts to speak earnestly to her mother, hoping to address the chasm between them but can’t muster the right words and instead asks about her first meeting with Cosimo yet again.

Arriving at the church, Lucrezia is astonished by the interior and can think only of replicating it in paint. Her freedom to view it lasts only a moment, because she is then veiled for the ceremony and finds an unfamiliar hand in hers. This, she realizes, must be Alfonso’s.

The ceremony commences, and soon Alfonso lifts her veil. She is both taken aback and charmed to see a slight smile on his face, defiantly showing through the somber proceedings. As they exit the church to meet the people of Florence as husband and wife, he asks if she still has the painting of the stone marten and if she thinks the marten will be happy to move to Ferrara. She does, she tells him.

Scorched Earth

In the present, in the hunting lodge, someone appears at Lucrezia’s bedside with a cool cup of water. Surprised, Lucrezia realizes it’s her maid Emilia. She had tried to follow them to the lodge, she tells Lucrezia, but Signor Baldassare had forbidden anyone from going. When an artist arrived at the primary estate to deliver the portrait Alfonso had commissioned of Lucrezia and then set off for the lodge instead in search of payment, Emilia stole a horse and followed him. He is downstairs now, Emilia reveals.

Lucrezia explains her predicament to Emilia, making her promise not to go downstairs—nobody can know she is here, she tells her, or they will both be killed.

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