I’m a Painter, Not a Historian

I get a lot of emails from people asking about the “historical characters” that I “base the portraits on”. Or they ask me if there is a Wiki entry, or book on the person I can point them to, as obviously I have quite a bit of knowledge on these subjects and study them often. Then they also ask where exactly in Europe some of these counties or locations are, and have I ever been there? Some people seem to get worked up about it too, because when I tell them it is all fake they are convinced they knew of this or that person so it can’t be made up, they even went on a group tour of their residence in England! Infidelity, eccentricity, egomania, crime, bizarre and horrible deaths, none of this is unique to anyone in society with money — not even today. Perhaps because of these common themes, it takes time for these people to realize they’ve been had; this is why I try to insert humor or ridiculous circumstances into my biographies more and more.

I guess it means that I am a pretty convincing liar that I can have people believe that these were ever real people, with real lives, in real locations. Although when I don’t get credit for the writing part, I do get miffed a bit that I spent so much time on something that people assume I lifted from a history book! The question then gets posed if I’ll ever do a comic book, but I hate doing anything sequential — doing hand-drawn animation projects at CalArts killed any desire to do ever again. I went nuts! But, I would love to someday finally publish a quality book of all my portraits with their family trees, maps and crests in full glory. Anyone wanna publish it,  fund it, or get Kickstarter involved somehow? Anyone?

I’m very excited I finally came up with a bio for this chicky-poo portrait! She’s kinda mean and has bad taste in decor. It also made me realize the math is a little off when it comes to some of my family trees I have created for my portraits. This week I actually had the calculator, a costume history book, and all my scribblings out trying to correct it so that it made sense. I had a few goofs, like people who had become grandparents at age 6 and stuff. Glad no one noticed!

Nayanna of Alia, Countess of Luc, (1527-1586)
11×14 inches
The chance to marry “well” came thanks to the lucrative family lumber business, and two uncles who served as tutors to a succession of royal children. Marrying the second Earl of Luc and becoming mistress of Barrole Hall, she had a son – fulfilling her expectation. The countess conducted her life autonomously; the earl was hardly to be found, a ghost moving in the background of her life while he hunted, traveled, and philandered. While she kept the chattels of Barrole Hall in tact, her additions to the home became a triumph of original bad taste. The madness of her egomania revealed itself in mixes of Oriental, Greek, Venetian renaissance, bronze statues draped with silver jacquard, and her collection of bizarre wax dolls. Nayanna gained notoriety later, as a widow, when her majordomo of 30 years appeared next her to bedside stark naked and professed his love, she replied, ‘don’t be stupid, and put that awful thing away!’ The butler promptly retrieved a gun from the library display case and shot himself. She was most distressed about replacing her rare, and now stained, Oriental rug.

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2 Responses to “I’m a Painter, Not a Historian”


  1. 1 Nia 05/16/2010 at 10:56 am

    While I’m certainly entertained reading the bios I only spent a few minutes wondering if they were about real people. And had I known you and your sense of humor better at the time probably wouldn’t have even thought it at all. Do people really believe that Victorian nobles had purple hair?

    • 2 vendettabella 05/16/2010 at 11:09 am

      It is probably that people seem to think I “interpret” the portraits in my own way, but that I’ve based them off actual figures in history. No Victorian though! I hate the Victorian era, I strictly stay between the 1400s and 1700s — with a few Regency portraits thrown in.

      There was a woman who went on and on about how she had heard of Tally Hall — a residence in one bio — and how she heard it had been turned into a great little museum. I told her she has probably heard of Tally Hall, because it is the name of a former mall, now turned parking garage, in Ann Arbor, Michigan. She still insisted she had heard of a museum that the characters in the portrait had started in their residence.


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