This painted lie you see

by Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Juana Inés de Asbaje y Ramírez de Santillana, better known as the name she adopted later in life, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, was a Mexican writer fueled by her love of knowledge and close relationship with God.

"This painted lie you see" is known by various titles, sometimes called simply Sonnet 145 or more complexly "She Disavows the Flattery Visible in a Portrait of Herself, Which She Calls Bias." As with many works rescued from the past, it was known by various names. The poem is originally written in Spanish and has been translated into English by different people over time, further leading to some ambiguity as to the exact wording of the title or poem itself.

The poem is written in fourteen lines with two quatrains and two tercets and following ahendeca-syllabic pattern in its original Spanish. There is a rhyming scheme in Spanish as well that we cannot see in the English translation. A certain rhythm and lilt to the work is lost when translated into other languages.

The poem is addressed to the reader who is, in the context of the poem, the viewer of the painting. The author is the subject of the painting, which she describes as essentially a flattering take on her actual image. While she compliments the painter, by referring to the work he's done as a smart use of color to trick the eye, she aims to make the truth of her image clear.

The first quatrain tells the viewer that the painting uses artistic tactics to make her image softer and more beautiful than it is in reality. The author describes this as our titular "painted lie."

The second quatrain explains that the author has aged and the painting makes her appear to have avoided the many changes to one's image over time. She feels that deceiving the world by making it look as though she's been exempted from the physical signs of aging is a dangerous mistake. In this way, hundreds of years before fashion magazines were criticized for using photoshop to achieve similar results, the author has taken a stand against unrealistic representations of the female form.

Finishing out the poem, the author says that while the painting is beautiful, it is not real, and that makes it a fleeting object, "a flower, fragile, set out in the wind." Beneath the surface, she writes, the viewer can see the truth. The painting is nothing because it is not a reflection of truth, it is an illusion.

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