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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 361

As a sister in the order of Saint Jerome, Mexico’s Juana Inés de Asbaje y Ramírez de Santillana (1651–1695) became Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz. An exceptionally well-read woman for her time, Sor Juana wrote extensively about both mundane and spiritual matters, often insisting that the two were not actually separate. Before entering religious life, she had already become known for her writing and erudition.

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Among the hundreds of sonnets Sor Juana wrote, Sonnet 145—often called “the painted lie”—is one of the most well-known. It encapsulates numerous themes that occupied her and often put her into conflict with her superiors. The poem is remarkable for its insistence on the limitations of mortality while offering no indication of the hope of the eternal life of the spirit. In form, it is a Petrarchan sonnet, consisting of fourteen lines in two quatrains and two tercets; it uses an abba, abba, cdc, dcd rhyme scheme.

Many commentators have noted marked similarity in form and themes to a 1582 sonnet by Spain’s Luis de Góngora y Argote. In his poetic commentary on vanity, Góngora concludes with reference to the idea of “dust to dust” as the ending of corporeal life; Sor Juana uses the same words to end her poem. One remarkable contrast in this apparent homage is her reversal of the theme. Rather than criticize a vain woman’s folly as the male poet does, she criticizes the falsity of the painted image. In that regard, she reminds the reader as much as herself of the ultimate futility of trying to outlast fate.

Throughout her poem, Sor Juana points out the misleading quality of any portrait. While it attempts to capture the sitter’s youth, it may remind them of the onslaught of “old age,” which all are powerless to arrest. Even to pretend otherwise is a kind of vanity that ultimately embodies the foolishness of all art rather than the supposed beauty of the subject. With the analogy of a “fragile flower” being blown away, she suggests that any effort at defense against death is futile. For everyone and everything, the end will be “nada,” “nothing.”

The Poem

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 443

This poem appears in anthologies under three titles. It is most commonly referred to as “Este, que ves, engaño colorido,” or “This painted lie you see,” which is the poem’s first line. The original title, however, which is sometimes dropped, even in Spanish editions of the poem, is more complex. The purpose of the poem is explained in this title, which Alan Trueblood has translated as “She Disavows the Flattery Visible in a Portrait of Herself, Which She Calls Bias.” The poem is sometimes simply called Sonnet 145.

The poem, which focuses on a single painting, is written in a standard Petrarchan sonnet form: its fourteen lines are divided into two quatrains and two tercets. In Spanish, each line is composed of eleven syllables; this is known as a hendeca-syllabic line.

The first four lines, or quatrain, rhyme abba in Spanish and function as a complete clause. The poem immediately addresses a person, a “you,” who is looking at the painting that is the subject of the poem. The painting, which is a flattering portrait of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz herself, is nothing more than a “painted lie” or a “cunning deceit of the senses” because the “exquisite beauty of art” functions, in fact, through “false syllogisms of color.” The poet seems to be suggesting that art lies.

The second quatrain, following the same rhyme scheme, continues the description of the painting and further explains the poet’s philosophical position. This portrait of the poet attempts to “triumph over old age and oblivion” by stopping the progression of time. Sor Juana believes...

(The entire section contains 1356 words.)

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