Soulful eyes

Every day I come into the office, I look above my desk and say hello to my lady with the soulful brown eyes. You might ask, “Who is she?” She is Beatrice Cenci, a young woman whose portrait is displayed in a beautiful gold leaf frame. She joined my office suite in 2018 and has calmed me in times of stress or when I need a break from staring at a computer screen.

I did some research on the Internet and Wikipedia about the Portrait of Beatrice Cenci after learning a bit about this copy of the painting from Curt DiCamillo, Curator of Special Collections at American Ancestors and New England Historic Genealogy Society. The painting is attributed to the Italian Baroque painter Guido Reni. The painting dealt with the controversial topic of Beatrice Cenci (6 February 1577–11 September 1599), a woman who was executed by Papal authorities, specifically Pope Clement VIII Aldobrandini, for murdering her father, Count Francesco Cenci, after an abusive and incestuous relationship. Her murder trial in Rome gave rise to an enduring legend. Beatrice became a symbol to the people of Rome of resistance to the arrogant aristocracy. It is said that every year, on the eve of the anniversary of her death, she returns to the bridge where she was executed, severed head in hand.

Beatrice became a symbol to the people of Rome of resistance against the arrogant aristocracy.

The artist has been highly debated, with many previous critics assigning the work to Elisabetta Sirani, depicting Beatrice in the white robes of a Roman Sybil or perhaps a vestal virgin, evoking sympathy. She looks back at us in a melancholy pose. Tradition holds that Guido Reni painted the work for Cardinal Ascanio Colonna. The debate over the authorship and its influence are as interesting as the work itself. Traditions with no surviving documentation claim Reni entered Beatrice’s cell the day before the execution, or saw her on the way to the scaffold. Others claim he was not even in Rome at that date. The earliest Barberini catalogue states it likely depicts the Cenci girl by an unknown painter; only a later one attributes the work to Reni.

My lady is part of American Ancestors | New England Historic Genealogical Society’s vast art collection. Restoration work is badly needed. Some say the large cut in her canvas was caused by someone’s knee, others that she was damaged while being moved. She has a few stains on her dress along with a tear, and her frame, although opulent, needs your help!

Those soulful eyes express sadness yet peace. She is a calming presence in a sea of uncertainty. She cries out to be saved: if not in her first life, now, here, in her afterlife. Her restoration is estimated at $5,000-$10,000. Please consider a donation to help this beautiful lady with the soulful brown eyes.

About Stacie Madden

Stacie Madden, Director of Development, has more than 20 years’ experience in development, marketing, communications, sales, community relations, and volunteer management. Prior to joining NEHGS, Stacie held leadership roles at HopeHealth, IFAW, EMD Serono, Dunkin’ Brands, and Reebok. She has a BA from the University of Massachusetts, Boston, and an MBA from Babson College. She is president of the board of directors for Atlantic Symphony Orchestra and an adjunct professor at Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences University. A past secretary of the Scituate Cultural Council, Stacie is a member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals and Women in Development.

6 thoughts on “Soulful eyes

  1. I never realized that there was a collection of such a wide range of artwork connected to NEHGS. Where can I get more information about the various pieces? I thought everything was American history related!

    1. Hi Beth. We recently publised a book called Family Treasures: 175 Years of Collecting Art and Furniture at the New England Historic Genealogical Society. It has some of our best work included. You can purchase it at our bookstore if you are interested.

  2. I have a version of this painting on porcelain in a brass standing frame, a gift from my great -aunt circa 1990. It had always been in her home, which had also been her parents’ and grandparents’ home. According to an episode of Antiques Roadshow featuring a version of the Beatrice painting, these were very popular with tourists in Rome. My best guess is that a great great uncle born in 1860 may have brought it home after he studied for the priesthood in Rome in the 1880s.

    1. HI Margaret. I think it’s great that you know about Beatrice Cenci. And for you to have a painting on porcelain is excellent. Thanks for letting me know about the popularity of her painting in the 1800s.

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