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The painting was unexceptional. Really. The subject was typical of its period; a woman, seated, shown only from the waist up. Her hair was confined under a net, but the curls that escaped were a coffee-brown, dark and lustrous. Her face was all angles, pointy chin and high cheeks, with a nose that could have been printed in profile on an ancient coin. Her eyes, a deep, rich greenish-blue, told Jacob that they were probably an artist's convention, a flattery. They matched the brocaded robe the woman wore over a deep green gown. Her jewels were conventional sixteenth century gaudy; chains and charms dripped from her neck and ears.
She smiled at him in the enigmatic manner made famous by the Mona Lisa. Her right hand rested on her breast, modestly covering any exposed cleavage. Her fingers, over-long and freakish as all such hands were painted back then, toyed with the one standout addition to a dull arrangement. The central pendant on her very busy necklace was a winged lion, much like the symbol for Saint Mark, the famous patron saint of Venice. This lion, however had the hindquarters of a sea-creature, in the shape of a long scaled tail, split at the end. It was a gorgeous piece, obviously made of roughly polished emeralds and gold, and Jacob couldn't help but admire it.
The portrait itself was painted on wood with egg tempera, a method that dated the artist, if not the painting. The use of egg tempera was well into its decline by the time this painting was completed, thanks to the ease of use that the relatively new oil paints provided. The painter must have been old school to have such talent with the tricky and quick drying egg paints.
Yes, quite average, which was why Jacob waspuzzled at his reaction to the piece. He was fascinated by it. He'd stared at it for over an hour, noting a crack here, a wormhole there, the unfortunate water damage on the bottom third of the work. Whoever this lady was, she wasn't really beautiful, but Jacob couldn't take his eyes off her. There was something in her expression, something subtle that Jacob really wouldn't have expected an artist of mediocre talent to capture. It was a glint in her eye, a tiny quirk to her lips that spoke of mischief. And intelligence.
The more he looked, the more he liked her. Her skin was golden, not creamy, which he thought was lovely. So many of the Renaissance ladies he'd seen immortalized on canvas were pasty, washed out. It was fashionable for a lady to have moon-pale skin, after all, and so this lady's warm olive tone was suggestive, as if there were a bit of lusty peasant under all the fine feathers. Her lips were not full, but they had a pleasing shape, and the upper lip was just a bit rounder than the lower. It gave her a very sensual allure.
The room seemed overly warm suddenly, and Jacob could feel sweat breaking out over his body, heat blooming in his hidden places: under his arms and between his legs. He shifted on his stool, uncomfortable in clothes that were too heavy and skin that was too tight. Extraordinary that a simple painting could do this to him, but it was. He was becoming aroused.