Prose for Van Orley: Myriam Leroy

Authors on paintings. BOZAR asked 5 writers to choose a work from the exhibition Bernard van Orley. Brussels and the Renaissance and inhabit one of its characters. Myriam Leroy chose the portrait of Margeret of Austria.

'Bernard van Orley. Brussels and the Renaissance' - Myriam Leroy

I am Margaret of Austria, the eternal widow.

I’m the one who should have been queen, should have been a mother, and should have been happy, but who’s forever in white mourning instead.

I’m the one who had everything, you know, but who never stopped losing.

People said I was so pretty. Can you see that in this portrait? Can you tell how old I am? No, you can’t, and that’s how I want it. Look at that face: it’s expressionless, because it has nothing to say.

I don’t want to arouse desire, for desire is what turned me into this spectre in a black dress and white veil that gallant men fight over. Desire, like an irrevocable tide, has left me.

In my mouth, love has the taste of death.

Still, I was known to smile now and then. I wrote this epitaph long ago, on a day when my ship was caught in a storm: ‘Here gentle Margaret quietly is laid, who had two husbands, and yet died a maid.’ But I would not die a maid after all. I didn’t know it then, but I would die a woman in love.

I was rejected by the King of France, Charles VIII, then widowed by John, Prince of Asturias, before giving birth to a stillborn daughter. I was at last consumed by the fire of a life that strangles and elevates you. A fire that pins you to the ground before sending you to heaven. My heaven: the gaze of Phillibert II, Duke of Savoy, nicknamed the Handsome. It was an arranged union, a political union, as they all are. But Phillibert and I recognized each other, and feelings flourished. Then our intertwined bodies and souls became that furnace, that geyser of blue and pink flames, of colours that exist today only in my memory. I’m the bi-chrome woman, made of black and white.

Because, in my story, death always finds a way. A hunting accident claimed my husband while I was pregnant. After that, I was no more. I was annihilated. And yet, I still had twenty-five years to live in that gaping absence.

I am rich now, a good match. But what’s the use of money from an eternal mourner … I give it to painters, to poets. And I had a mausoleum built to inscribe our idyll in eternity. The Taj Mahal before the Taj Mahal, an edifice of tears and stone in Bourg-en-Bresse, in the Royal Monastery of Brou. Our tomb.

When the hour of death comes, I will lay down beside my beloved. I don’t want another skin, I refuse every other union; just the idea of accidentally drawing another breath is unbearable to me. I’ll be alone. Alone and powerful, as lonely women are. I will be regent of the Netherlands, I’ll be a patron, and the arts of my day will bear my stamp.

But my womb will remain dry, my arms empty. But my heart is full.

I’m Margaret, neither gentle nor maid, who had three husbands and died faithful.

Translated by Emiliano Battista

Myriam Leroy (1982) is a French-speaking Belgian author who lives in Brussels. She is a journalist, playwright and novelist. Cherche l'Amour, her first play, created at the Théâtre de la Toison d'Or, was awarded the best author prize at the 2017 Prix de la Critique. In 2018 her first novel, Ariane (Editions Don Quichotte), finished second in the Prix Goncourt for a first novel. She is a regular guest on the cultural radio broadcast Entrez sans frapper on La Première (RTBF). 

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