I start at the sound of my name, tearing myself away from the daydream I was absorbed in to find my teacher staring at me with a reproachful look on his face.
“Annah, I’ve told you a thousand times to concentrate on the task in hand. Please continue with your work without feeling the need to drift off.”
His voice, with its strong Italian accent, sounds so disappointed that my cheeks flush with shame. I have very few shortcomings, but my worst is that I am a very inattentive pupil. But my teacher is like the father I always wanted and scolding from him cuts deeper than any other. I can’t meet his eyes so quickly busy myself in my work.
The lady posing today is incredibly beautiful, I suppose. But I don’t like her smile. She’s reminds me of a bully, smiling in a mysterious way that you are certain will bode ill for you. Her face is like a mask. I pick up my brush and contemplate what colour would be best to use for her dark hair.
I paint truthfully, painstakingly, coping the minutest details: the tiny ringlets in her hair, the pools of shadow on her chin, the exact colour of her eyes. I ignore my dislike for her, trying not to let it show in the painting. She’s obviously posed before. She moves very, very little, and never changes the expression on her face. If I respected her more, perhaps I would admire this.
But I don’t. She’s snobby and rude. This morning, when she first walked into the studio, the questions she asked my teacher were so impertinent I wanted to stride up to her and smash my canvas over her beautiful head.
“Who is this?” She had asked in contempt. My teacher guided her to the seat where she would pose.
“That is Annah, my apprentice and only pupil.” He said calmly, ignoring her rudeness. He instructed her on how to sit, asking her to first try one position, then another, until he was happy. Then he began setting up his easel, and I began setting up mine.
“Hang on, good sir… your apprentice girl… she won’t be here too?” Her expression of horror didn’t make her look beautiful at all. Her eyes looked like they would pop out of her skull.
“Yes, Annah will be painting too. This is good practice for her. Now please, return to the pose.”
She had forced her face back into that stupid smile and pretended that nothing was the matter.
Now, hours and hours later, it still feels like I’ve barely even begun the painting. I know that my teacher sometimes works on one painting for years, and now I understand why. It’s incredibly difficult to paint quickly and accurately. I pause, put my brush down, and massage my aching hand. Ignoring the snobby woman I walk over to my master and peer over his shoulder. His painting is astounding. Even unfinished, it’s an exact perfect representation of the lady, perfectly capturing her mysterious smile.
“Teacher, that’s amazing!” I exclaim. He smiles, his first proper smile of the day, and lays down his brush too.
“Thank you, Annah.” He says warmly. He glances outside at the dark sky, and then addresses the sitting lady.
“I’m sorry, Miss Giocondo, but I am going to have to ask you to leave now and return tomorrow to continue posing.”
Her smile is just as stupid as ever. It has no warmth, but her voice is simpering and sugar-sweet. I swear she even bats her eyelids at my teacher.
“Oh, I do not mind. I would love to return! Sitting for such a great artist as you, Mr di Vinci, is a great honour.”