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4.1.05

Sor Juana

Off and on, I have taught Sonnet on a Portrait of Herself by Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (1651–1695) as an example of Baroque self-awareness:

Sor Juana Inés de la CruzThese lying pigments facing you,
with every charm brush can supply,
set up false premises of color
to lead astray the unwary eye;
Here, against ghastly tolls of time,
bland flattery has staked a claim,
defying the power of passing years
to wipe out memory and name.
And here, in this hollow artifice,
frail blossom hanging on the wind,
vain pleading in a foolish cause:
poor shield against what fate has wrought,
all efforts fail and in the end,
a body goes to dust, to shade, to nought.
So I was glad to see Sor Juana get some press recently, in an interesting article (17th-Century Sisterhood Is Powerful, January 2) by J. D. Biersdorfer in the New York Times. She's a fascinating figure, worthy of study. Her portrait (Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, 1772) by Andrés de Islas has been loaned by the Museo de América in Madrid, for the new exhibit Retratos: 2000 Years of Latin America Portraits, at El Museo del Barrio in New York. This portrait, made 70-some years after her death, is not the subject of the sonnet, but it would be interesting to see.

This exhibit is at El Museo del Barrio until March 20. It will then tour a handful of other institutions around the United States, including the Smithsonian International Gallery (because the National Portrait Gallery is closed until Summer 2006) here in Washington, from October 21, 2005, to January 8, 2006.

I also recommend Luis M. Villar's Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz Project at Dartmouth College. The exhibit was given a full review by Holland Carter (The Lesson For Today Is In Spanish, December 3) for the New York Times.

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