February 2007 Archives

Portrait of Beatrice Cenci
possibly by Elisabetta Sirani c. 1662
previously thought to be by Guido Reni

The best known image of Beatrice is a popular portrait supposed to have been by Guido Reni. Not quite up to par with the master, it is now thought to be by an artist of his circle, the daughter of his long time assistant, Elisabetta Sirani.

Poignantly serene in the face of calamity, this portrait of a young woman has been reproduced ad infinitim in oil, on porcelain, in print, and other media for centuries. There is some speculation that the painting may have influenced Vermeer and his three-quarter view of "Girl with a Pearl Earring," but it wasn't til over one hundred years after Vermeer that the portrait appeared out of a Baroque fog in the eighteenth century, mentioned in a catalogue of paintings owned by the Barberini family in 1783 and attributed thusly: 'Picture of a head. Portrait, believed to be of the Cenci girl. Artist unknown.' A few years later a copy of the catalogue attributes the painting to Guido Reni. (source: Beatrice's Spell by Belinda Jack) While most art historians currently dispute both attributions, that of being Beatrice and painted by Reni, the portrait fills a vacuum and remains our most tangible link to an enduring legend.

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