For a moment, Bella wondered how she came to be confronted by this striking artwork. She had wandered into the gallery in a daze, her mind fogged by the fact that she was supposed to be on honeymoon. The wedding had gone the way of everything else that season – cancelled, or at least postponed for a year, her dress back in the wardrobe.
Somehow, through the maze of directional arrows and social distancing dots, she had arrived at this self-portrait by Peter Paul Rubens of himself and his future wife. She noted the namesake co-incidence as she read ‘Isabella’ on the label, alongside the title, ‘Honeysuckle Bower’. “Bower’ – she liked that word, and mouthed it softly into the silence, staring at the clusters of trumpet-like blooms that surrounded the couple, symbols of their enduring love.
The girl was wearing the elaborate clothes of the early 17th century, with a large ruff and traditional Flemish tall hat. Somehow, despite the stiff attire, Rubens had conveyed a closeness and devotion between them that Bella had not seen in other artworks, with him leaning towards her and the two of them holding hands. She told her own Peter about it that evening and he realised just how sad she was about missing their wedding.
Pete spent the next week making plans, all kept from Bella until Saturday morning. He told her, with marriages allowed to take place again, he too didn’t want to wait any longer. Intrigued and excited, she got out the dress that had been waiting in the wings, and quickly did what she could with her make up and lockdown hair.
An open-topped car dropped her off and directed her down a path through a leafy arbour, where her nerves were calmed by a soothing fragrance. Reaching the end of the walkway, she hardly noticed the incongruous assembly of masked guests, nor even the waiting registrar, because her attention went straight to the honeysuckle arch under which her groom was standing.
“Our bower,” she whispered, as he took her hand.