The Picture of a Painted Woman

These snippets come from an early 17th century text on the ungodly dangers of face-painting. I stumbled on the pamphlet by accident, and initially hesitated over sharing it on Fragments, since the text is somewhat intractable in nature. However the author reveals some interesting details about the perception of women who decorated their faces with cosmetics; and in addition, provides us with a glimpse into the world of the puritanical preacher.  This textual portrait of a woman given over to the pleasures of beauty products and wigs not only conflates unnatural beauty with ungodliness, it also draws some fascinating parallels between the city of London and notions of depraved debauchery. The image above comes from the title page, and bears an uncanny resemblance to Elizabeth I.

She is a creature, that had need to be twice defined;  for she is not that she seemes. And though shee bee the creature of God, as she is a woman, yet is she her owne creatrisse, as a picture. She loves a true looking-glasse, but to commend age, wants and wrinkles, because otherwise she cannot see to lay her falshood right. Her body is of Gods making: and yet it is a question; for many parts thereof she made her selfe. View her well, and you’ll say her beautie’s such, as if she had bought it with her pennie. She’s ever amending yet is she for all that no good penitent. For she loves not weeping. Teares and mourning would marre her making: and she spends more time in powdring, pranking and painting, then in praying. She’s in her oyntments a great deale. Her religion is not to live well, but die well. Her pietie is not to pray well, but to paint well. She loves confections better a great deale, than confessions, and delights in facing and feasting more than fasting.

Religion is not in so great request with her, as riches: nor wealth so much as worship. She never chides so heartilie, as when her box is to seeke, her powder’s spilt, or her clothes ill set on. A good Bed-friend shee’s commonly, delighting in sheetes more than in shooes, making long nights, and short daies. All her infections are but to gaine affections; for she had rather die, than live & not please. Her lips she laies with so fresh a red, as if she sang John come kisse me now. Yet it’s not out of love, excepting self-love, that she so seekes to please, but for love, nor from honesty, but for honor: tis not piety, but praise that spurres her. She studies to please others, but because she would not be displeas’d her self.  And so she may fulfil her own fancy, she cares not who else she doth befoole. A name she preferres to nature, and makes more account of fame, then faith.

And though she do affect singularity, yet she loves plurality of faces. She is nothing like her self, save in this, that she is not like her self. She seldom goes without a paire of faces, and shes furnished with stuffe to make more if need be.  Her own sweet face is the booke she most lookes upon; this she reads over duly every morning, specially if she be to shew her self abroad that day: And as her eye or chambermaid teaches her, somtimes she blots out pale, & writes red. The face she makes i’th day, she usually marrs i’th’night, & so its to make anew the next day.  Her haire’s seldom her own. And as for her head, thats dressed, and hung about with toys & devises, like the signe of a tavern, to draw on such as see her.

Shes marriageable & if she survive her husband, his going is the coming of her teares, and the going of her teares is the comming of another husband. ‘Tis but in dock, out nettle. By that time her face is mended, her sorrows ended. There’s no physick she so loves, as face physick: and but assure her she’st ne’re need other, whiles she lives, and she’ll die for joy.

She takes a journey now and then to visit a friend, or sea cousin: but she never travels more merrily than when she’s going to London. London, London hath her heart. The Exchange is the Temple of her Idols.  In London she buys her head, her face, her fashion. O London, thou art her Paradise, her Heaven, her All in all!  If she be unmarried, she desires to be mistaken, that she may be taken. If married to an Old man, she is rather a Reede and a Racke unto him, then a Staffe and a Chaire, a trouble rather then a friend, a corrosive, not a comfort, a consumption, not a counsellour. The utmost reach of her Providence is but to be counted Lovely, and her greatest Envy is at a fairer face in her next neighbour; this, if any thing, makes her have sore eyes.

Her imagination is ever stirring, and keepes her mind in continuall motion, as fire doth the pot a playing, or as the weights doe the jacke in her kitchen. Her devises follow her fansie, as the motion of the Seaes doe the Moone. And nothing pleases her long, but that which pleases her fansies.  Once a yeere at least she would faine see London, tho when she comes there, she hath nothing to doe, but to learne a new fashion, and to buy her a perwigge, powder, ointments, a feather, or to see a play. One of her best vertues is, that she respects none that paint: and the reward of her painting, is to be respected of none that paint not.  To conclude, whosoever she be, shee’s but a Guilded Pill, composde of these two ingredients, defects of nature, and an artificiall seeming of supplie, tempered and made up by pride and vanitie, and may well be reckned among these creatures that God never made.

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One comment

  • September 9, 2010 - 11:27 pm | Permalink

    There may well have been health issues related to the beauty products, but the vicious attack is reserved for the woman’s character flaws. The writer did indeed conflate the use of beauty product with ungodliness; also with selfishness, lack of empathy, having a less than eternal marriage and every other nasty female trait he could think of.

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