The Art of Beauty

(Medicamina Faciei Femineae)

Translated by Christopher Kelk

Reclining Venus

Reclining Venus
Gilles Demarteau (French, 1722 - 1776) - The Rijksmuseum

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Girls, learn how care improves your form and face.

Art bade the sterile furrows to replace

The hungry brambles with the gifts Ceres

Made plain, producing on the apple-trees

Sweet fruit, and trees were grafted that they might

Reap other riches. Tilled lands bring delight.

Gold will enhance our roofs. The black earth lies

Beneath the marble, while with Tyrian dyes

Fleeces are treated, and to works of art

Will India cleft ivory impart. 10

Perhaps the Sabine women in the reign

Of their King Tatius opted to maintain

Their land and not their beauty. As they sat

On high stools, ruddy matrons laboured at

Their spinning, and, as night approached, they penned

The sheep their daughters would by day attend

And cut logs for the fire. But now they spare

Their precious daughters, wanting them to wear

Gilt vestments, flashy jewels, gemstones found

In eastern countries to be draped around 20

Their necks, and earrings too. One mustn’t flee

The urge to please, however, for we see

That nowadays men, too, are beautified:

For husbands have determined to abide

By feminine rules – a bride can scarcely be

Much better dressed. She primps assiduously

To win a beau. But such sophistication

Is not a sin. The same consideration

Is spent upon their hair where women hide

In rustic haunts: deep in the countryside,  30

Though Athos screens them, Athos nonetheless

Will make them elegant. Much happiness

They take in pleasing men; a young girl’s mood

Is raised when she regards her pulchritude;

And Juno’s bird will spread his wings in pride

When they are praised, and thus he will provide

The way to love more than a strong potation

On which a wizard stakes his reputation

With terrifying art, and don’t rely

On herbs or mingled juices; do not try 40

The venom of a mare in heat; and you

Will find a Marsian chant won’t cleave in two

A snake, and rivers will not start to flow

Back to their source, and you’ll see, too, although

You beat Temesa’s brass as much as you may,

The Moon will never be wrested away

From her own steeds. First, study niceties:

With those in place, your face will surely please

And love will follow. Age will get its hooks

In you and lay waste to your pretty looks 50

With wrinkles, and so, as each year will pass,

You’ll be chagrined to look into your glass

And grief will bring more lines. But probity

Will help you, proving its tenacity

As you grow old, and love will yet abide.

Now when your tender limbs are fortified

With sleep, I’ll tell you how you may impress

A man by learning how to incandesce

Your skin. Take off the straw and chaff that hide

The barley that our ships upon the tide 60

Have brought from Libyan fields to Italy.

Take two pounds and an equal quantity

Of vetch soaked in ten eggs. Let it all dry

And then beneath the millstone that is by

The patient donkey worked, let it be ground.

A lusty stag’s first horns you then must pound

In it. One sixth of an as of it then take

And then of it a pulverized mixture make

And sieve it thoroughly, and then add in

Twelve bulbs of narcissi, but you must skin 70

Them first, then pound the mixture vigorously

In a marble mortar. This miscellany

Now needs two ounce of gum and Tuscan wheat,

Eighteen of honey. Should a woman treat

Her face with this, that face will surely shine

More brightly than her mirror. Then combine

Lupins and beans, then bake them. Take six pound

Of each and in the mill let them be ground.

Then add white lead and don’t forget the scum

Of red nitre and the iris which has come  80

From Illyria, and let young arms be used

In kneading it; when it is duly bruised,

One ounce should be the ideal weight. What’s best

For curing spots is what the halcyon’s nest

Is built with. What’s the dose? One ounce apply

In two coequal parts, I’d specify.

So that you may apply it easily,

Add honey from the golden Attic bee.

Though incense soothes angry divinities,

Don’t keep it merely for their litanies. 90

With nitre mix this cure for boils, and see

You use four ounce of each; add from a tree

An ounce of gum, a dab of myrrh; a hand-

-Ful of dried rose-leaves should be added and

Ammoniac gum and incense: coalesce

Some barley-water till you may assess 100

That both the gum and incense weigh the same

As do the rose-leaves.  Very soon you’ll claim

A fair complexion. I once saw someplace

A woman rub moist poppies on her face.

The end of The Art of Beauty